Camp Fire was founded in 1910 by Luther Gulick, M.D., and his wife, Charlotte Gulick, as the first nonsectarian, interracial national organization for girls in the United States.
Shortly after the national agency was formed, Edith Kempthorne started Alaska’s first Camp Fire club in Juneau in 1913 as part of a national movement to extend the Camp Fire model through the “Guardians of the Fire” program. Camp Fire was one of the
first youth organizations in Alaska. Edith was soon hired as the first field secretary of the national office, in part due to her “frequent and lively” letters from Juneau.
In 1916 she returned to assist Camp Fire’s founder and the group of volunteers operating sporadically through the ’20s and ’30s in Sitka, Wrangell, Nenana, Bethel, Kodiak, Homer, Cordova and Juneau.
In 1959, the first official Camp Fire council began operating as The Chugach Council of Anchorage, serving 350 girls through Camp Fire clubs. Camp Fire started Camp Yalani at King’s Lake Camp in Wasilla in 1960 and offered two one-week sessions each summer for girls.
The Alaska Council Takes Shape
Joan Hurst, the Alaska Council’s first executive director, arrived in 1962. Camp Si-La-Meo, Camp Fire’s day camp program, was the first formal program launched in 1963. (Learn more about Joan Hurst here)
In 1964, following the earthquake, Camp Fire Alaska Council received national support from Camp Fire’s friendship fund. The local volunteers gathered supplies and went to villages that had been impacted by the quake. In Seward, a day camp was established that provided activities for any girl who wished to come. Ninety-five girls attended, in a week of pouring rain, to engage in Camp Fire’s programs of cooking, hiking, creative arts and an overnight camping trip. The children’s parents, relieved of the responsibilities of child care, were able to devote their full energy to cleanup and reconstruction.
This was the beginning of the Council’s Rural Alaska Program. The rural program was later expanded to address the issue of high drowning rates in Alaska’s villages by offering water safety and swimming lessons to children. The program promotes healthy life skills and choices such as boating safety instruction, arts and crafts, cooperative games, hikes, camp-outs, teen activities, service projects and community events.
Staff come from around Alaska, the USA and the world, adding a valuable cultural exchange experience to the program. In 2012 our rural program served 26 communities, providing 60 weeks of day camp in total.
Camp Fire and the Alaska Council Grow
As society’s values changed, Camp Fire realized there were many benefits to making the organization even more inclusive, rather than exclusive. The organization became officially coeducational in 1975 and was renamed Camp Fire Boys and Girls.
As Alaska entered the 1970s and ’80s, and more parents began working full-time outside the home, the problem of unsupervised children in our communities became a critical issue. Along with the population boom created by the pipeline construction there was a rapid growth in the numbers of “latchkey” children. Children were often left unsupervised after school hours.
Hurst and others had a critical role in making the case for quality child care to the Alaska State legislature, and created the Child Care Assistance Program to assist working families with child care expenses. School Age Child Care became a major program, and today the Council operates 28 municipally licensed before and after school programs in Anchorage and Eagle River.
The Alaska Council continued to offer day camp at Si-La-Meo in Anchorage each summer (now held on the campus of Alaska Pacific University) and now also runs a municipally licensed full-day option at local elementary schools, called the Summer Adventure Program.
The Community Centers Program was started in 1978 by a team of Social Work students in the Fairview and Mountain View neighborhoods in Anchorage. The purpose of the program was to provide safe and nurturing after-school alternatives to youth in economically challenged neighborhoods at no cost to families. Today, Camp Fire Alaska (our official name today) operates four community center programs in Anchorage.
Camp K’s Rich History
In 1966 Camp Kushtaka was officially born from the many volunteer hours spent securing land permits, constructing buildings and clearing land. The original cabins were retired Forest Service cabins, which, according to the federal government, had reached the end of their intended lives, but the ever-resourceful Alaska Council made them last another 50 years!
In 2002, Camp Fire Alaska began a process of redeveloping Camp K on Kenai Lake (as it is now called), raising $3.25 million to cover the cost of building new infrastructure.
Thanks to the hard work of dedicated volunteers, and the financial support and in-kind contributions of numerous corporations, foundations and individuals, Camp K now has new cabins with running water and flush toilets, a new dining hall/kitchen and a large activity field. A new health center and shower house became operational in 2013.