At Camp Fire, service-learning opportunities are one way that we elevate youth voice, and connect students to give back to community in tangible ways.

The National Youth Leadership Council defines service-learning as “an approach to teaching and learning in which students use academic knowledge and skills to address genuine community needs.”

Service-learning is a major component of curriculum in all of our school-year programs, carried out through student-led clubs and service projects. Camp Fire youth use their voices in recognizing and addressing issues in their communities. Projects range in scale, from improvements in their own classroom to impact their school, their neighborhood, all of Portland, or beyond. Through these efforts, youth have the opportunity to use critical thinking skills to discover problems that they can work on together. In each service-learning activity, students engage with and volunteer in their own communities via a multi-step process.


At Rose City Park Elementary, the Camp Fire kids wanted to make Thanksgiving a little brighter for the residents of the Hollywood Senior Center. About 25 students crafted and created placemats for the center. These placemats were then delivered to the center before their Thanksgiving dinner service, where more than 100 seniors were in attendance.

The staff at the Hollywood Senior Center were so appreciative of the placemats. “We really wanted to provide an ‘authentic Thanksgiving holiday experience’ and that’s exactly how it felt. Bringing young and old together to give thanks and enjoy each other’s company. Our seniors felt very welcomed and appreciated the wonderful fellowship and service,” said Amber Johnson.

Pictured here is one of the residents who enjoyed her placemat so much, that she decided to take it home with her to hang on her wall.

Camp Fire youth giving back to community

Camp Fire 7th graders at Lane Middle School learned more about the issue of hunger and homelessness in Portland. They also pitched in to make a difference. The students went out to St. Francis Dining Hall to serve meals to the needy. On both days there were 60-70 people in attendance. Camp Fire youth served hot meals and were able to provide a direct service to help in their community.

At Cesar Chavez Middle School, Camp Fire students chose to volunteer at their school’s food pantry.  The Chavez food pantry serves about 50 families each week, including some of their own families. As a result of their hard work for Thanksgiving service, they were able gain more respect for the volunteers who do this each week. About half of the middle schoolers even chose to stay an hour past their program to stay until the pantry closed.

The teens at Chavez also went on a field trip to Salt and Straw, which is not only a tasty spot for ice cream. It’s also a large Portland vendor to school and food programs. This visit allowed the youth to learn how the community supports each other. They also witnessed businesses giving to the food pantries, and the volunteers who work the food pantries where families come.

I was so proud of my students. Not only did they help in our school’s food pantry, they also delivered the leftovers from the food pantry to some of the neighborhood people experiencing the most need. They were able to see that throughout this program, nothing is wasted, “ said Chavez Site Manager, Ginger Huizar.

High School students practice empathy

Teens in our Thrive program at David Douglas and Fir Ridge High Schools took on Tie-Dye for a Cause with their lunchtime service-learning clubs. The students bring their own lunch and gather together to work on a project over their lunch period. They were able to make fun, cozy socks available to cancer patients who get cold feet during treatments. Bandanas were also designed for patients going through chemotherapy. Each item included a personal message of support written by youth.

The teens talked about how seeing and hearing things like, “You rock!” or “Stay Strong!” vs. “I’m so sorry..” can be felt by someone going through a difficult time. The students emphasized how staying positive and offering empathy can be more beneficial. Their conversations also touched on identity and how our hair is connected to how we present ourselves to the world.

In this project the youth came away with tie-dye skills. They were able to practice exercising empathy. And the students donated their tie-dye ware to the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute who will connect with patients in need.

Service-learning and giving back to community is an important area of our work. We know it can become a life-long experience for our students. In part 2 we’ll share more examples of learning, leading, and impact including projects with the Oregon Humane Society and New Avenues for Youth. In part 3 we’ll connect you with projects with Portland State University Students for Children, and Youth Volunteer Corps for a toy drive at Portland State.