Last spring, Camp Fire’s Site Director for Government Hill left the state to pursue her dream to dance professionally in New York City. It was hard to say goodbye. Over her multi-year tenure as a Site Director, Hannah shaped Government Hill’s program into something special. Parents and visitors often marveled at the calm, organized efficiency of site operations, as well as the organic role-modeling and leadership older kids were modeling for their younger friends. Walking into the Government Hill site was like stepping into a greenhouse—one where each plant has been thoughtfully positioned to support another. So what was that extra sprinkle of magic? How could one adult not only tame a pack of 40 children, but also teach them to monitor themselves?

“Respect.” says Hannah.“Teaching and reinforcing good manners was a huge thing for me. We based a lot of things on teaching manners and respect, but once that was established, things started getting a lot cooler. We had bigger parties, better toys, more interesting activities. Once the foundation was in place, our program became something really special.”

Hannah went on to add that the structure she instituted at her site became a tool for establishing trust and community. Older kids were often trusted with access and leadership responsibilities, which would have otherwise been impossible. During weekly Pancake Fridays, for example, older children would be the ones teaching younger kids how to make pancakes—rather than a Camp Fire staff member.

There’s a difference between childcare and youth development. At Camp Fire, we recognize the responsibility that comes with spending an extended period of time with a child. Our organization is constantly developing and practicing new curriculums designed to help youth grow as individuals and as community members.

Respect goes both ways. As Hannah explained, You have to hold children responsible, but you also have to hold yourself accountable. There were times when my personal life left me tired, and it showed. I didn’t excuse myself from explaining. I would apologize to my kids during Circle Time. I would explain that I was tired and trying to not be grumpy. I respected the kids, and so they respected me. I created an environment where my staff, my kids, and I all felt equally supported. It was a philosophy based on respect.”

The job of Site Director, Hannah explains, isn’t just about hanging out with kids and making sure they have fun. Being a Site Director at Camp Fire means supporting children whose families are going through divorce, hunger, homelessness, loss of work, and so many other circumstances. Sometimes kids have complicated, adult emotions that they’re still learning how to recognize and regulate. Camp Fire programs respect children, and respect what they’re going through while also teaching them important life skills.

While Hannah departed Camp Fire to take her turn on stage (good luck Hannah!!), the lessons and impact she shared with her site are unforgettable. Addressing her farewell, Hannah shared, It was very firmly decided that I would need to call them once a week during Circle Time, so that the kids and I can update each other on our news. A few of my fifth graders are about to become sixth graders, and it’s vital that I return for the elementary school graduation.

For my going away present, I made them a yearbook. We all signed it and wrote little notes to each other. I’ve had two portraits painted of me as well as been given personal notes and gift cards—they’ve done a lot to make me feel loved. And you know, I loved working at Camp Fire, too. There were so many times when I’d been at dance practice all night, and I’d wake up exhausted, dragging myself into morning program. But the kids were always so excited to see me. Some of them had been waiting all night to tell me what was happening in their lives. They were counting on me to be there for them. It taught me a lot about accountability and showing up for people who need you.”

We couldn’t be more proud of Hannah—both for the time she spent with us at Camp Fire, and for her journeys ahead. At Camp Fire, we like to say that we’re in when school’s out. Thanks to the dedicated work of many talented people, we’re proud to announce the opening of our 2019-2020 Before and After School programs.