We’re thrilled to have our new President & CEO, Kori Redepenning, who officially joined the Camp Fire Minnesota team on June 7, 2021! We sat down with her to learn more about her family and hobbies, how she connects with nature, and her vision for Camp Fire Minnesota and the youth we serve.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I have a wife and two small children—Henry is four and Albert is one. I have a lot of hobbies that involve being outside. When I’m with the kiddos, we do everything from bike rides in parks to being out on the water, and in the winter it’s a lot of sledding and ice skating. Personally, my happy place is going for a run, listening to a podcast and being outside.
What does nature mean to you and what is your favorite way to enjoy it?
I think there’s something very calming about being outside in nature, especially this year. I love anytime I can be in or near water, whether it’s a river or a lake. Lake Superior is one of my favorite places. When you drive up to northern Minnesota and get to Duluth where you can see the water, my whole energy changes.
What is it about Camp Fire that drew you in and how do you connect to the mission?
I’ve seen personally and professionally that when a young person gets the opportunity to have a positive experience in the outdoors, it changes their interactions with nature for the rest of their life. Sitting behind a desk and doing worksheets is not how I’ve seen most young people learn and thrive, but if you can be outside enjoying yourself and learning something at the same time, that is amazing. Fostering the connection to nature in a way where youth get to be creative and learn at their own pace—in their own way—is really exciting.
I especially connect to Camp Fire’s mission when I think about our equity work. Making sure that more young people have the chance to connect to nature and feel like outdoor spaces are for them is very important to me.
As you look at Camp Fire’s strategic plan with a focus on our commitment to Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DE&I) and expanding opportunities for youth from all backgrounds, what opportunities do you see for Camp Fire to make progress on these goals?
As an organization that was founded to ensure equity and inclusion for girls in nature and camp, Camp Fire is very well situated to build on our historical commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion and to ensure that we are welcoming youth from different racial, ethnic, socioeconomic, and LGBTQ2S+ communities. As we do this, I’m committed to ensuring that it is connected to our mission and to prioritizing our strategies, creating
measurable outcomes and ensuring a shared sense of accountability. I believe it also must be influenced by our youth, as well our partners, staff, board, and funders. It’s an area where young people can directly weigh in on the future of Camp Fire. My hope is that we can focus the DE&I work in a way that in a year from now, we can collectively say the progress made is the work we intended to do.
Additionally, we can use our new year-round Community & Dining Center at Tanadoona to continue building awareness of our programs and using the space with schools and other youth-serving partners. We want it to feel like an accessible space available to the whole community.
This past year was incredibly challenging, especially for young people. As we navigate the ongoing effects from the pandemic and the racial reckoning in our community, how do you look at the role of nature?
That’s a complex question, because for nature to be healing for young people, they need to have access and feel comfortable and that’s not always the case. Youth of color continue to be significantly impacted by the deep racial injustices that led to our community to begin this racial reckoning, and yet have historically not had equitable access to nature. So it’s really important for Camp Fire to be intentional about creating experiences in nature where youth can feel a sense of belonging and safety.
As it relates to COVID, young people have been very open about the impact this last year has had on them and their mental health. So many unfortunately have had to sit in front of a screen for too many hours. If we can give them the opportunity to be outside and remove some of the isolation that they’ve experienced, that is a meaningful way that we can start to respond to young people’s needs after this past year.
The more we can create experiences that they are asking for and not assuming what they need, the better.
What is something you learned or accomplished in your past role as CEO at Minnesota Alliance With Youth that you want to bring to Camp Fire?
You have to be thoughtful about how you’re engaging young people and youth voice. There are a lot of opportunities for young people to participate in one-off decisions, but there aren’t many opportunities for young people to be actual partners in the work from start to finish. At the Alliance I learned a lot about what thoughtful, intentional youth engagement and youth voice looks like, as well as the importance of compensating young people for their time and their perspectives. I’ve seen firsthand how the outcome of a project is fundamentally better because young people were involved.
When I left the Alliance, we had young people at all levels of leadership within our board of directors, and I’m excited to think about similar possibilities for that here at Camp Fire. There is strong youth activism already happening in our community. I’d like to look at ways that we can be partners in the work that young people have already identified as important to them—to be an organization that supports them in ways that are meaningful to them.
What is your vision for Camp Fire in the near and long-term?
It’s been a huge year of changes and transition for the organization—and for the world. So in the near term, I would say get our footing, prioritize our work, make sure we have a fun summer with happy campers and families, host some great events at Tanadoona, and are able to connect with all our partners, stakeholders, and funders.
In the long term, I want to really focus on where we’re at in our strategic plan. There’s a lot of really important work that’s proposed and also a lot of details, goals, and metrics that I think we need to add. We can really commit to doing the DE&I work that’s meaningful for Camp Fire, as well as the personal DE&I work as a board and staff.
In the coming year, we can think more about partnerships and increasing opportunities for youth to benefit from our greenspace. We can also reflect on last year and the things we want to continue doing, like offering a virtual programming option for youth who aren’t able to visit Tanadoona.
I’m also thinking about how we can let more people know about our work. I see so much potential for Camp Fire, and I’m excited to help bring them to life with our amazing team.
What are you most proud of?
I’m proud and grateful to continue learning something every day. I try and put myself in places and situations to be vulnerable and learn new things. I have two little kids, and I feel like I learn stuff from them every day. Another thing I’m proud of is that I try and show up for the people in my life—I’m pretty loyal.
Share with us a fun fact.
I am an aunt and I have 15 nieces and nephews. I’ve been an aunt since I was 12, so I know the role well and I love it. I stay in pretty close touch on a regular basis with all of them, and they live all over. So that’s my fun fact: I have the best nieces and nephews in the world—they’re amazing.
Want to learn more about Kori and meet her in person? Join us at one of our upcoming small-group Meet & Greets at Tanadoona on August 3 or August 5. RSVP at: campfiremn.org/meet-and-greet/