Colleen Kelly, of Gamber, said it was a few years ago when she started to feel the pressure of running from meeting to meeting with her five children.

"I had three girls in three different [Girl Scout] troops on different nights, meeting in different places and it wasn't working. With sports and everything else I couldn't do it," she said. "And I had a boy coming up" said Kelly, whose fifth child was not yet in Girl Scouts.


Kelly wondered if there was an organization that taught the values of scouting but encompassed all ages in one group and included both boys and girls. Then she found Camp Fire USA.

The organization Kelly began to research in 2012 started in 1910 as Camp Fire Girls. It has been co-ed since 1975 and includes ages 3 to 21.

Camp Fire was exactly the kind of organization Kelly had hoped for, but there were no groups in Carroll County. Kelly wondered if she could start her own group.

After getting information from Camp Fire's Patuxent Area Council — Maryland's council and one of more than 120 chartered councils overseen by the national organization — Kelly held an open house meeting in the fall of 2012 at Cavalry United Methodist Church in Gamber. She wanted to find out if others were interested. A few families turned out, but so did volunteer Betty Meade.

Meade explained why she came to the open house. "I was in Camp Fire Girls as a child and went through the entire program. I was the arts and crafts director at Camp Fire's Overnight Camp. By the time our children came along it had become co-ed, which was a good thing because I have a son and a daughter," she said. "It is a good program for kids and mine were in it."

Meade quickly signed on to help.

In January 2013, Meade and Kelly attended the Patuxent Area Council leader training held in Baltimore. Kelly became the leader of the new local group, Meade the assistant leader, and meetings began in October 2013.

"We do a lot of fun things, like going outside a lot and doing a lot of cool stuff like planning [a Winter] Olympics and seeing which things float and which don't," said 9-year-old Kara Kelly, who is now a member. "I think it is a lot of fun."

Nine-year-old member Alexa Noonan added more: "We get to do crafts, play on the playground and play games like tag," she said. Her 6-year-old brother Jacob and her 4-year-old sister Paeyton agreed.

In September 2013 the group went to Camp Barrett, in Crownsville, for an All-Council Weekend Campout. "We cooked bacon and eggs in a number 10 can," Kelly said. "We went for a long hike up Hamburger Hill and we had to hold onto a rope to climb it. We did all sorts of team-building games and they all did a zip-line."

With the motto of "Give Service," Camp Fire strives to teach members about providing service to their families, groups, councils and neighborhoods. They camp, make crafts, earn badges and more. The program is laid out in handbooks, with a different one for each age group.

The age groups include Little Stars for children ages 3 to 5, Starflight for children from kindergarten through second grade, Adventure for third to fifth grade, Discovery for sixth to eighth grade, Horizon for grades nine to 12, and a Teen Advisory Group for graduated seniors through age 21.

Kelly said the one-hour meetings include opening with the Pledge of Allegiance and the Camp Fire Law. Participants learn about camping, first aid and safety, and then split into age groups to work on crafts, badges and projects.

"Members of Camp Fire have their own watchword," Kelly said. The word "Wo-He-Lo" is derived from the first two letters of the words, "work," "health" and "love," and it is used as a greeting and a farewell.


In the short time since its beginning, the local group has done a lot.

"We did a trip to Piney Run Park for hiking," Kelly said. "By completing a few activities [our members] completed the requirements for two emblems." They also did a service project in the spring, collecting school supplies for students at Mechanicsville Elementary School who could not afford them.

They had an awards ceremony and held a Winter Olympics on March 30. "We blocked off a big section of our meeting room with chairs and put sheets over it to be snow and then they dragged wagons around for the bobsledding," Meade said with a smile. "They ice-skated in their socks, and then we had skiing and the bobsledding."

"I like how we go camping and how we went fake skiing and skating and bobsledding at the Olympics," 8-year-old Kerry Kelly said of his group.

"We need to get more members," Betty Meade said. "You can do more with a bigger group. You can actually have a team."

Membership in Camp Fire cost $35 each for the first two family members and then $25 for each additional member, to a maximum of $125 per family.

"Camp Fire helps kids of all ages grow into responsible leaders," Meade said. "Kids today don't always get to experience the outdoors or do crafts or other things because of their parents working. But this program provides something for them," she said.

"If you have kids of varied ages this is the perfect thing," Kelly said. "You come to Cavalry UMC on a Sunday afternoon from 2 to 3 p.m. You learn some things, have some fun, earn some badges, and get leadership skills. You can't beat it."

Calvary United Methodist Church is at 3939 Gamber Road, Gamber. For more information, call 410-795-1478 or email cccampfire@gmail.com. Learn more about Camp Fire at http://www.campfireusa-patuxent.org.

Lois Szymanski covers Finksburg, Gamber, Pleasant Valley, Reese, Sandymount, Silver Run, Smallwood, Union Mills and Westminster. Reach her at 410-346-7321 or szymanski13@verizon.net.