When Heather Swinehart’s kindergarten-aged son Tristen began coming home from school with anxiety and asking “why he couldn’t be like everyone else,” she knew she had to act. Describing her outdoor-loving child as “all nature, all the time” and one who “thinks outside the box,” she recognized his uniqueness and wanted to find a place where he would thrive.
That desire for acceptance led her to Camp Fire Northwest Ohio, the local chapter of a nationwide youth development organization that prides itself on its policy of inclusiveness. To Heather’s relief, Tristen found an oasis with Camp Fire’s coeducational programs. The volunteers were “enthusiastic about who he is,” she explains. “They embraced my son. They encouraged him to just be himself.” Tristen’s turnaround with the Camp Fire served as Heather’s inspiration to get involved.
A former teacher who now provides in-home care to “families who have non-traditional structures” she’s always felt “a little socially awkward.” Despite this modest assessment, she’s found success as a volunteer, leading Camp Fire Starflight at Whittier Elementary, an after-school program which pairs her with kindergarten through 2nd grade students.
Heather delights in impacting children through Camp Fire. The organization makes a point of collaborating with young participants — a suggestion from Tristen led to her group’s “random acts of kindness” project, which began with a short timeline and grew into something more impactful than originally planned thanks to her group’s enthusiasm. And the benefits can be more personal, too, Heather says. One tiny charge who initially squeaked out that she was “very shy” has blossomed into a “bubbling rock star.”
Add Heather’s out-of-the-ordinary family to the mix, including her foster children, and everyone fits in and relates — being different is the common thread that connects them. While Heather has built a welcoming and safe place for a number of children at home, she and Tristen have found and provided the same acceptance with Camp Fire Northwest Ohio. In a few short years the
organization became a big part of her family’s life. “[The staff] are an amazing group of people,” Swinehart says. “There’s just so much support [for me] as a leader and for my son.”
Tristen, now 8, is thriving, and Heather’s involvement with Camp Fire has increased her confidence tremendously. Helping children realize their own
self-worth has been a fulfilling endeavor, she says. “Empowering little ones empowers me.”
For more information about Camp Fire Northwest Ohio, call 419-422-5415 or visit campfirenwohio.com
Children: Tristen, 8, and 3 foster children
Favorite spot in Findlay:
Favorite place to be: The great outdoors
Favorite restaurant: Chipotle
Motto: Every day is a gift to learn something new about ourselves and the world around us.