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Meet Julie Richards

Camp Fire Minnesota's new Senior Director of Programs & Community Impact

Julie’s interest in the outdoors started at a young age.

As a native Wisconsinite, Julie spent her summers in the northern part of the state, where her family owned property. “We had a camper set up there until I was 21. As us kids got older, my parents would push us out of the camper and into tents so I spent my summer bathing in lakes and cooking over a fire.”

That love of the outdoors followed Julie when she moved to Washington, D.C. for college. While pursuing her English Degree at Howard University, she began working in out-of-school time programs, eventually ending up at the Lowell School as the After School Program Director. Having come from a long line of teachers, youth work felt like a natural career path.

 

Building familiarity with the outdoors

At the Lowell School, Julie coordinated all of the out-of-school time programs, worked as staff for summer programming, and chaperoned class camping trips. “Starting in second grade, kids had overnight camping trips; the older they were, the more nights they spent away. During the summer programs we’d go spelunking, climbing, and kayaking – all the things I came up doing as a kid”.

Though Julie feels comfortable in the outdoors, she acknowledges that, “nature can be kind of scary if you’re not used to it. People want to feel safe and have a right to be where they are. The idea of ‘nature at home’ is less scary for many people and is a great entry point to a larger exploration of the outdoors.”

Meeting Youth Where They Are

Camp Fire has been “exploring nature where you are” for years through our Out-of-School Time programs in housing complexes and at partner sites. Under Julie’s leadership as the new Senior Director of Programs & Community Impact though, Camp Fire will be able to expand its programs to more youth and communities across the Twin Cities and at Tanadoona.

As part of our continuous commitment to provide a welcome and inclusive environment for the youth, staff and communities we partner with, Camp Fire Minnesota first began working with Julie in 2018, when she co-led a series of intercultural competency trainings through her consulting business, Inquire, Decipher, Progress. This past April, Julie moved into her staff role at Camp Fire.

Using her background in both out-of-school time programming and professional development training, Julie will be working closely with program staff and local communities to grow our current offerings at Tanadoona and co-create new programs. Says Julie of her new role, “Camp Fire’s programs are already growing and I’m really excited about expanding our school and housing-based OST programs — adding new sites, partnerships, and field trips groups, all through the lense of community voice.”

Community Voice

Part of this work includes planning Community Conversations, a series of listening sessions conducted in partnership with Land O’Lakes’ Diversity & Inclusion team. The outcomes of the listening sessions will allow Camp Fire to co-create more culturally inclusive programs and will play a large role in shaping our upcoming strategic plan and  ongoing expansion of Tanadoona as a year-round, nature-based learning destination.

“I’m hoping that we’ll be able to build touch-points in the community and partner with people and groups who are already there. We can figure out what we do well and make sure people have access to that…and then link that in to environmental justice.”

 

Co-creating and collaborating

One of the things Julie is most excited about as she steps into her new role?  Launching Camp Fire Minnesota’s new Naturalist Fellows program.

As part of their term, the Fellows will use the outcomes of the Community Conversations to design and implement new programs.  “At this stage, my real role is to provide support and to coach, to be a thought partner with staff and a sounding board. I get to innovate and dream with them and listen to what their ideas are and then figure out ‘how do we do that?’”

Julie also hopes that the Fellows will work on “illuminating nature right where people live.”

“If you live at Chancellor Manor (where we offer an OST program) and take a one mile radius, what nature can you find there? And how do we tie Chancellor Manor Camp Fire youth into those experiences more? We want access to camp too, but we want that to begin with recognizing, protecting, and enjoying what you have right around you, even if it’s like: ‘I put a garden on the back porch in my apartment’”, says Julie.

 “I want to figure out how can we cultivate that sense of nurturing and connection to earth.”

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