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Camp Fire Crackles With Excitement of Change : Youth Group's New Focus Is to Show Boys and Girls How to Share the Future

March 31, 1985|DAVID JOHNSTON | Times Staff Writer

The chattering stopped as soon as Chance Campbell called the six Camp Fire boys to order so the Blue Birds could talk about genocide in Cambodia.

Camp Fire boys ? Talking about war and peace? That's right.

Camp Fire, which is 75 years old this month, is emerging from a 13-year struggle to modernize its programs. "Wohelo" (for " wo rk- he alth- lo ve") is still there and so are the camping trips and service projects.

But Camp Fire's national volunteer leadership, believing America's future will be far different than its past, has added new focus and direction to its programs. And it's added boys.

The national leadership believes that boys and girls must learn to be friends who work together on teams if they are to become successful adults in the Infotechnic Age.

In the past decade or so, all of the major national youth agencies--including Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, 4-H, Junior Achievement, Girls Clubs, Boys Clubs and the Red Cross, YMCA and YWCA youth programs--altered their programs and policies, after their memberships plummeted during the early '70s.

But only Camp Fire Inc. decided to cut a such a drastic new path in the wilderness of changing American social values and economic pressures on family life.

Camp Fire's national leadership decided in 1975, after a three-year-long internal review called "New Day," to go co-ed and to expand its service from grade school and older girls to all youth from infants to age 21.

Camp Fire also rewrote its by-laws to grant considerable autonomy to its 300 local councils so long as they meet certain minimum standards of training, conduct and members wear the prescribed uniforms.

The national leadership also decided to go beyond clubs to develop new ways of delivering service. Today some of the 300 local Camp Fire councils run day-care centers, offer before- and after-school care at inexpensive rates, run "mega clubs" with 60 to 80 youngsters instead of the traditional six or eight in a club and help young people get started in the working world.

"We looked at the entire spectrum of youth-serving agencies and found not a single one that directed its program to both the boy and girl child as well as participation of mother and father," said Phyllis Dolvin Schoedel, the president of Camp Fire Inc., who is an attorney in Spokane, Wash.

"As a predominantly female-oriented organization we also became caught up in the concern that so many women went through and vocalized in the late '60s and '70s about the sexist training we give in our society: the girl child only plays with dolls, the boy child only does certain things.

"As the woman emerged into more of a person than a stereotype, we recognized that as a very significant part of training today we need to teach young people to work together," Schoedel said.

Added Evelyn de Ghetaldi of San Francisco, Camp Fire's immediate past president and a key member of the New Day committee:

Separating the Sexes

"So often, in artificially separating the sexes in so many ways as our society does, we create a feeling in young people that the only reason a boy and girl should come together is for sex."

For 30 years de Ghetaldi, as a physician practicing under the name Evelyn Ballard, counseled students at San Francisco State University about their sexual problems. "Often I have had college students tell me they do not know how to relate to the opposite sex except to have sex," she said.

Her experiences with college students guided her to work on the New Day committee, de Ghetaldi said, and prompted her to initiate Camp Fire Inc.'s national policy on providing "age appropriate" advice on human sexuality to youngsters. She and others said Camp Fire adopted the policy in part because adult leaders of youth groups have always given such advice, but without any training or formal approval.

Juvenile Romances

Having gone co-ed, Camp Fire has also had to teach its volunteer leaders how to deal with juvenile romances. The national board adopted a policy in 1981 encouraging "age appropriate" instruction on human sexuality to complement parental guidance. The policy received near unanimous support from the 320 delegates to its national conference, although some councils have opted not to implement it, de Ghetaldi and other Camp Fire officials said.

The struggle to serve the future has cost Camp Fire the support of some volunteer leaders and has contributed to its continuing financial anemia.

Judith Erickson, a University of Minnesota researcher who has studied all of the major American youth organizations, contends that Camp Fire's new program fits the emerging social and economic order more smoothly than that of the other major youth agencies.

But Erickson cautioned that Camp Fire has taken a "high risk" path fraught with continuing difficulties.

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