Camp Fire brings nature and teamwork lessons to summer campers

In the midst of Long Beach’s bustling city, hundreds of kids discover nature each summer, sometimes for the first time.

If only for a week or two, they set aside their electronic gadgets, the video games and television shows to focus on gardening, hiking, science and cooking.

Camp Fire Long Beach, hosted at the organization’s five-acre facility near Carson Street, provides local children a nature-based camp experience. Each week, campers focus on a unique theme, but are always exposed to enrichment activities aimed at helping them find a greater appreciation of teamwork and the environment.

“It’s a wholesome atmosphere,” says Shirlee Jackert, executive director of the Long Beach program. “Parents love that their kids have a chance to cook over the campfire, learn silly songs and meet positive role models in our college-aged counselors.”

Camp Fire’s Urban Forest at Camp Shiwaka hosts two separate day camp programs that can often overlap. One includes a Thursday overnight. The second camp is the Backyard Bunch with nine one-week sessions. The resident camp program is Camp Wintaka held in the San Bernardino mountains for second- through eighth-grade students during July, providing kids with a true “home away from home” experience.

“Beyond the exposure to nature, what I really enjoy seeing is kids accepting each other and being campers together,” said Jackert. “Everyone wears the camp T-shirt and is expected to work together; you help in the camp, carry things and partner as a team.”

A new audience to the campsite this year includes adults from the Downey-based Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center, which caters to individuals who have endured a life-changing illness, injury or disability.

“We just started partnering with Camp Fire to do programming for our patients and participants to give them different nature and sensory educational experiences, team-building activities and challenge experiences,” said Rebecca Bershtel, recreational therapist from Rancho Los Amigos. “We’ve seen great success already, and it’s healthy to get our patients enjoying the outdoors, seeing they can still enjoy the smells of a campfire and even the obstacles of a challenge course.”

Jackert said the accessibility of the three-quarter mile ADA Discovery Trail is welcoming to all who want to enjoy nature and habitats, campsites and magic circles, cookouts and a challenge by choice on the high and low courses.

“We’re a special place in Long Beach,” said Jackert, who has been associated with Camp Fire for more than 20 years. “Kids and adults leave here with special memories and a new appreciation for the outdoors.”

To learn more about Camp Fire, call 562-0421-2725 or visit While the summer season is nearly over, parents and children can learn more about the traditional club programs after school and winter and spring day camp programs and challenge course programs outings.