Mutual Aid through Sliding Scale Camp

by Zahir Ringgold Cordes, Educator, Youth & Family Partnerships Specialist; and Emily Pinkowitz, Director of Education

Bird Alliance of Oregon is committed to increasing equitable access to the outdoors and environmental education. In recent months, the youth education team has been examining its summer offerings to identify the best ways to honor and be active in this dedication. This critical examination has been spurred by our new Green Leaders partnership with Hacienda Community Development Corporation. During the summer, the young adults in the Green Leaders program were essential members of our summer camp team, supporting all camps at our Portland Sanctuary, as well as camps in local parks exclusively for Hacienda families. In response to their experience, Green Leaders challenged us to think beyond partner-only camps and find new ways to expand access to all of our summer programs.

A photo of campers sitting in a large circle with trees in the background.
Youth camp circle

For over fifteen years, Bird Alliance of Oregon has provided free, mobile summer camps to partners that provide affordable housing throughout the metro area, including Hacienda CDC, Bienestar, and others. In a typical summer, our Education staff pick up more than 150 children right at their homes and travel together to some of the most beautiful greenspaces around. These camps provide a vital space for children to explore nature in community with their neighbors and their families.

However, partner camps do not address barriers to accessing the full array of camps that Bird Alliance of Oregon offers to the general public, including day camps at our Sanctuary, on-the-go adventures, and overnight programs at Marmot Cabin and beyond. As a result, we have failed to see our commitment to accessibility reflected in the diversity of our full summer camp program. Bird Alliance of Oregon’s camps have been beloved sources of joy, exploration, fun, and learning for many youth over the years, and those memorable experiences must be made more available to communities that have historically and presently been excluded from them.

This summer, one way we will prioritize that accessibility is through a sliding scale payment model for camp, with the intention that more children will have the opportunity to connect deeply with nature through the enriching opportunities that Bird Alliance of Oregon provides. When families register for summer camp, they will be able to choose a dollar amount that is feasible for them. Families will also be able to “pay it forward” and give back, leveraging their privilege and abundance against the inequities that prevent many children from accessing these opportunities. For those who will not be sending children to camp but would like to support this effort, donations can be made to the Spencer Higgins Education Fund on our website.

This is mutual aid, and it can begin to help heal our world. It is what the saying “It takes a village to raise a child” means in our context—the redistribution of resources that have been held in communities of privilege, the coming together and the diffusion of abundance so that we can collectively succeed, and the understanding that investing in children returns tenfold to the health of our world. Children hold our future in their hearts, minds, talents, and passions, and connecting all children to nature and inspiring them to take action for our environment is not only central to our mission, it ensures that children hold the protection of nature central to their visions of the future.


Registration for Summer Camp opens on January 19!

Summer Camp