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The Annual Camping Trip

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Each summer, I take a weekend camping trip with one (or more) of my sons. Just so you know, it’s classic open-the-back-of-the-SUV camping, but it’s still a great experience to get out in the wild and open air with my guys.

Last year, I used a reflection from that to draw an analogy to our approach to capacity building with non-profits. Something different stuck with me this year – as we were sitting around at night and after breakfast in the morning, my little guy (Sam, 11 years old) just loves, and I mean loves, playing around in the fire. I would imagine I’m not alone in that keen insight.

What fascinated him most was letting it die down and then figuring out how he could get the fire roaring again, without using any “unnatural” aids. He figured out the best times and ways to blow on the fire, when the right kinds of sticks would make the most difference, how different kinds of wood worked better than others. It was really fun to watch.

The next week I was at a meeting and someone led it off with a poem, “Fire,” by Judy Brown. This isn’t the whole poem, but some parts that resonated with me and reminded me of watching Sam play with the campfire –


What makes a fire burn

is space between the logs,

a breathing space.

Too much of a good thing,

too many logs

packed in too tight

can douse the flames…


… We only need to lay a log

lightly from time to time.

A fire


simply because the space is there,

with openings

in which the flame

that knows just how it wants to burn

can find its way.


That idea of “breathing space” and that the fire “can find its way” kindled (bad pun intended) thoughts about our work with non-profits in the community again. Sometimes, the most valuable part of our relationship can be in the “breathing spaces,” in that relationship between an ED and a Lead Partner, when volunteers go the extra mile and do more than they were asked to do, when an investee can call us during a crisis and we can help because we’ve been through it before. None of those are “more logs” moments, they are the in-between, unscripted moments that make the fire burn the brightest in our work with non-profits.

And the idea of a fire finding its own way … we just have to remember that all the time with our investees. They are the “flame” in the community and we are there to help it burn brighter and longer, but they can find their way. Just a simple thought. I learn a lot from my kids and being outdoors … maybe I should go camping more often.

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