shirlee jackert

SHIRLEE JACKERT

Shirlee Jackert joined Camp Fire when she was in ninth grade, and her north Long Beach schoolmates wouldn't stop talking about the fun they had in the group.

"I loved the message," Jackert said. "I liked their philosophy. And I love the outdoors, the hikes and spending time at the ocean. That's also why I eventually became a leader."

Jackert is stepping aside at Camp Fire Long Beach after 35 years in the organization — the last 24 as executive director. She said she's not leaving the organization, though, and will continue working as a volunteer.

Jackert's roots are in North Long Beach, where she attended McKinley Elementary, Hamilton Middle and Jordan High schools. The Camp Fire group she joined was based in North Long Beach too.

Activities centered around Camp Suanga, a day camp near Artesia and Long Beach Boulevard. The camp didn't survive the construction of the 91 Freeway, though.

"It was in 1969, and we moved everything to DeForest," Jackert said. "DeForest was (and is) city land, but they allowed us to have our program there."

That program gradually diminished, and by the time Jackert joined Camp Fire as a staff member in 1983, activities had moved to the far eastern portion of the city, with activity centered on Camp Shiwaka Day Camp near Carson Street and Studebaker Avenue (Shiwaka also opened in 1969).

Jackert began looking for collaborations, and in her second year, 1984, she joined with Jonathan Jacques Children’s Cancer Center of Miller Children’s Hospital and the Long Beach Cancer League to create a week of day camp, named Camp Summersault, for cancer patients and siblings at Camp Shiwaka. Camp Summersault became a major endeavor for all the partners, growing for a number of years. It continued until 2012.

A post as assistant executive director was created for Jackert in 1987 under then-Executive Director Barbara Frame. Frame left in 1995, and Jackert took over the top spot.

She said one of her longterm goals, shared by her governing board, was to remake Camp Shiwaka into an "Urban Forest," with decomposed granite paths, sustainable landscaping, gathering areas and more on its 7 acres of land. That process continues today.

In the last two years, Jackert and her assistant executive director Georgia Stewart have worked toward returning to Jackert's roots in North Long Beach. That dream has come true this summer with a satellite day camp operating out of the DeForest Park Community Center.

"We're kind of switching roles now, switching offices now," Jackert said of Stewart's becoming executive director. "Only I'm a volunteer… I'm still working on planning the programs for the north center, and we're doing WRAP (Winners Reaching Amazing Potential) after-school programs.

"I love Camp Fire. It gives children a chance to use positive energy to do service, public service. That's a very important part of the program."

She said she plans on doing some traveling, and catching up on work in the yard. And, of course, working with Camp Fire.

For more information about Camp Fire programs in Long Beach, go to www.campfirelb.org.

Harry has been executive editor of Gazette Newspapers for more than 26 years. He has been in the newspaper business for more than 35 years, with experience on both weekly and metropolitan daily papers in Colorado and California.

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