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Camp Fire Columbia Take Pride In Offering a Place for Everyone: Top Workplaces 2021

Makenzie Marineau, who does communications for Camp Fire Columbia, doubles as a camp counselor for the organization’s summer day camp at Woodlawn Elementary School in Portland, Aug. 5, 2021. With Marineau is camper Sarai Miller. Beth Nakamura/Staff

CAMP FIRE COLUMBIA’s focus on equity and its positive impact on both its employees and its community have earned the youth-focused nonprofit the honor of being a Top Workplaces winner for a second consecutive year.

The Oregonian/OregonLive’s annual Top Workplaces competition, now in its 10th year, selects winners based on anonymous employee feedback.

As a local council of the national Camp Fire youth development organization, Camp Fire Columbia has provided programming options to children throughout Oregon and southwest Washington for a century. Its residential summer program, Camp Namanu, was founded in 1924.

Today, Camp Fire Columbia’s services include summer camps and school-based programming throughout the region. Camp Fire Columbia’s before and after school programs serve a total of 15 West Linn and Portland schools; six McMinnville locations will join the 2021-2022 lineup. Teen programs operate in the David Douglas, Reynolds, and Portland Public Schools districts.

Before and after school programs offer student enrichment – such as homework assistance alongside art, athletic, and other activities – during the academic week, on teacher in-service days when students are not in class, and over holiday breaks. Teen programs serve middle and high schools with large populations of marginalized students, providing mentorship, college prep, and family support.

“We’re a place for everyone,” said Makenzie Marineau, communications manager at Camp Fire Columbia.

“That’s at the forefront of everything. Camp Fire is welcoming – not only to those who come and partake in our offerings but also for those who work here.”

“Camp Fire Columbia really leads with its values,” added Marineau, referencing specifically the organization’s focus on equity. Committed to “helping all students light their fire within,” Camp Fire Columbia actively prioritizes racial equity in its programming, training, and hiring. According to its equity statement, its goal is to “address the racial predictability of youth achievement academically, socially, and economically.”

Camp staffer Kevin Wong assists young artists Jahmia Moody (left) and Lucy Jones-Redstone at Camp Fire Columbia’s summer day camp at Woodlawn Elementary School in Portland, Aug. 5, 2021. Beth Nakamura/Staff

This focus extends to examining disparities in employee compensation. “We just went through a big pay equity audit process,” said Gina Sander, camp director. “We’re in a really great place where even our entry-level positions have a livable wage.”

The organization employs 25 year-round staff and more than 50 seasonal employees, and will likely exceed 100 employees this school year. Its revenue for 2019, the most recent year available, was $5,543,299.

Sander said the COVID-19 pandemic showed leadership’s determination to weather the storm on behalf of employees and keep benefits and pay in place. Grants, loans, and fundraising were pivotal to the organization’s efforts to avoid layoffs.

While many other organizations in the youth services sector took large hits due to the pandemic, Camp Fire Columbia worked to raise hourly wages to a minimum of $19 an hour, provide paid holidays to all employees, and ensure staff could transition into roles that worked for them, whether seasonal, temporary, or long-term.

“There is a lot of flexibility; you can work just a summer or just the school year,” Marineau said. “There’s the sense of really putting our employees first.”

Sander agreed that the breadth of the organization’s programming gives staff many options. She started with Camp Fire Columbia in 2009 as a seasonal employee, then moved to before and after school programs for six years. Other positions she has held include site supervisor and district coordinator, as well as her current role as camp director.

“One of the big things that has kept me here is that Camp Fire has continued to grow and morph, year after year,” said Sander, who once worked for two years elsewhere. “It’s hard to realize how much of that is happening until you go somewhere else. There is a lot of focus on reflection – what can we do to make the staff experience better, what can we do to make the family experience better.”

Marineau said that the impact of the organization on its community is part of what inspires her work, as well as Camp Fire Columbia’s dedication to employees.

“It is inspirational to see all the things we are doing, and how far our reach extends,” she said. “Everybody is doing something different, but always has a team that can support you and really be there. This community is special.”

See more Top Workplaces coverage at OREGONLIVE.COM/TOPWORKPLACES.