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Executive Director of Camp Fire Walla Walla, Shawniene Bingham. 

Executive Director of Camp Fire Walla Walla, Shawniene Bingham was in the right place at the right time to be led to her current position. 

Having worked in Seattle at the YMCA as a program director for youth, the move just made sense. 

“It was like I’d already done it,” she said. “I was working at Children’s Home Society, when Meagan Anderson Pirra said to me, ‘There’s a job opening, you should apply for it,’ now I’m here. I went straight to Boston for executive training in the first week,” she said. “How lucky could I have been?”

It was all part of a coming home for her and her husband, Derrick, who was born and raised here. He got a job working as a Tribal police officer for the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation and he moved back. At about the same time, her mother was ill and she remained in Seattle, coming here later to join her husband. 

“CHS was one of the most rewarding jobs I’d ever had,” she said. “I worked as a home visitor. It opened my eyes to the community and I learned about Walla Walla’s resources. The community is very supportive.”

A strong resource to the community, the nonprofit Camp Fire Walla Walla is dedicated to providing elementary school age children with a safe environment during out-of-school hours where they can learn, grow, create, explore and develop new skills.

Bingham is keeping the programs they have in place while working on expanding them. “Currently, we have the After School Program, Super Summer in the Park and we’re expanding into College Place this year, partnering with College Place and United Way. I can’t wait to expand our programming.”

Camp Fire covers Walla Walla and Columbia counties and could expand into Umatilla County. Bingham is seriously looking into an expansion into Milton-Freewater. 

While expanding jurisdiction is on the menu, an expansion of classes and workshops offered is also being considered. 

“I would like to start specialty camps next summer,” Bingham said. “We could do a cooking individualized camp with 12 kids.”

The modernized Camp Fire office has improved space for staff and gatherings, but more needed to be done. The back patio is a nice space for groups, classes and general programming area, but it had gotten overgrown and needed refurbishing. Northwest Credit Services staff came out and cleaned it up, according to Bingham, to facilitate a possible expansion out onto the back patio.

“I definitely want to continue the same programs,” she said. “We’re licensed so we can accept DHS in all five schools. It’s a good service for families. What’s safer than having your kid in their own school and to be able to walk to the program?”

Another part of her vision is to acknowledge the excellent team she has now, a very small office staff, and hopes to be able to increase the number of people she has working there. Her office staff consists of Keaton Sullivan, program coordinator, and Carly Clark, programs assistant. 

Currently, even as lean as they are, Bingham said they put out an excellent family newsletter and run the tight operation very well. 

“I just want to run the most quality programs we can run. But I’d love to have a full office staff. We are the front desk staff, we’re definitely running as a non profit. We’re here to service the children ... my biggest thing is curriculum, based on what they call ‘Thriveology,’ a social/emotional curriculum with adults as leaders and mentors. We also focus on sparks, sparks from a campfire get the child interested and inspired about a topic, then we run with it. We want to excite that child about their interests and what can we do to help them find resources in the community.”

For more information, visit wwcampfire.org .

Karlene Ponti can be reached at karleneponti@wwub.com or 509-526-8324.

Karlene Ponti began as Special Publications Writer in 1999, work includes Lifestyles, The Weekly and Business Monthly. After Wa-Hi, Ponti attended Whitman and is a UW graduate. Later she was ordained a Christian minister at CDM Spiritual Teaching Center.