Wayfinders Summer Program

We're creating a pipeline for Oregon's future science and environmental leaders!

Wayfinders summer program

Four Key Elements

Using four unifying elements, we set out on a series of environmental STEAM-based excursions that emphasize
life science, ecology, community, and cultural history.​

  • Sharing Our Stories: Exposure to Black and Brown Environmentalists
  • Stewardship of the Land
  • Watershed System and Relationship to the Land
  • Identity Affirmation and Confidence Building

Water Wednesday Initiative

Our Wayfinders Program has been successfully taking Black and Brown children to oceans, lakes, rivers, streams and pools for 5 years however we know exposure alone is not enough. Water Wednesday is an opportunity for swim lessons, a life skill, an array of water play and water related outdoor recreation opportunities that will promote aptitude and leadership for
Portland’s Black and Brown youth. When children are exposed to water regularly and in a safe environment, they learn and hone skills over time while their natural curiosity and self determination support them in overcoming fear of drowning. Our hope with our new initiative is that our campers will have the skills, and fortitude to use sound judgement when in and around water, and to think and act quickly to save their own life and help save the life of a friend in the event of emergency.

Summer 2020 Water Wednesday Field Trips Include:

Mt. Hood Community College Aquatic Center: swim lesson and fishing
PGE site - Promontory Park/Timber Park: fishing, kayaking, waterplay at the marina
Ross Island - Willamette River canoeing
Oxbow Park - Sandy River waterplay
Cook Park: kayaking and waterplay

“One important key to success is self-confidence. An important key to self-confidence is preparation.”
– Arthur Ashe

Is My Child Ready To Join Wayfinders?

We recognize that trying an immersive outdoor program perhaps for the first time, and being in a new space can be scary for both children and guardians. To that end, Camp ELSO works to create a safe and affirming space for all children regardless of experience and level of exposure to the outdoors.

Whether or not your child has previously attended Wayfinders, our Camp Guides, staff, and professional group leaders are trained in safety, and we actively work to evaluate and improve our cultural relevancy to connect children with nature through sharing lived experience and history as folks of color.

In general your child is ready if they are willing to follow directions, ready to respect nature, themselves, our leaders and other participants , but most important is that they possess a general willingness to try something new and be outside of their normal environment and comfort zone.

Our Wayfinders values are based in Afrocentric principles to teach and model what it means to be in community with one another. We practice restorative justice when challenges arise, and actively work to hold space for each child to be themselves and bring their full self to Wayfinders.

Camp ELSO was established to support underserved students that are interested in environmental science and STEAM, so we encourage kids to let out their inner geek and to embrace their natural curiosity. If your child has a general interest in being outdoors, nature, science, and exploration, then they will love Wayfinders.

Our hope is to provide a plethora of opportunities for your child to connect with the environment around them, to be introduced to or deepen their understanding of indigenous history, and to see themselves as future science leaders.

Your child will be in a multi-age setting and able to learn from and interact with kids from across the city, learning and engaging at their own level.

Summer 2020

Greetings Families!
We are excited to share that Camp ELSO will be launching an all new online registration portal. Registration is now open.

Registration Information:

In alignment with our mission and racial equity lens,
Wayfinders Summer Program is a unique affinity space designed to engage children of color. All registrants who ethnically and racially identify as Black, Brown, Indigenous and/or persons of color are welcome to apply.


Registration opens March 2, 2020 for our families who attend school at one of our School Partners:
Kairos PDX, Rosa Parks, and Alder Elementary Schools
Reynolds and HB Lee Middle Schools

Registration opens on March 2, 2020 for families who have children that have participated in Wayfinders for at least 3 years.

General Registration for all families begins March 15, 2020.


Will camps fill up before March 15?
No, only 1/3 of registration spots for each session are open for priority families, leaving the remaining 2/3 of registration spots that will open March 15.

If I am a White/European parent with children of color, can I apply for my child?
Yes! Wayfinders is an affinity space for Black, Brown, Indigenous, and children of color. The ethnic/racial identity of parents are not relevant.

I don't see the field trip sites, when will that be shared?
This webpage is the hub for all Wayfinders information. ELSO staff are hard at work, putting the finishing touches on our summer camps. We will continue to update this page weekly as we roll out the details on what is in store for camp participants this summer. If you are not currently receiving our newsletter, email info@campelso.org to be added to our mailing list and we will keep you up to date on summer plans.

What is the cost of each session?
Wayfinders operates on a sliding scale. Each session is $50-$250 based on household income.


Contact Us
Asia Saechao, Education Manager

Ericka Harrison, Administrator


Storytelling: Nature's Stories [K-4]  

In this introductory to Storytelling session, participants will begin to explore their own narratives and experiences with and within nature. Youth will build new connections to the natural world and the outdoors by engaging with nature through mindfulness and open-time play. Participants will delve into the narratives of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) communities and how they maintain their connection to nature including food/medicine, stewardship, and agriculture. On Culmination Day (Friday) participants will display and share their narratives with their families.

Storytelling: Environmental Justice and Advocacy [5-8]  

In this Storytelling session, participants will explore their communities’ and their own narratives and experiences with and within nature. The focus is youth climate activism and advocacy, participants will learn how to turn narrative into action. Youth will experiment with different mediums and methods of advocacy, while thinking about how to incorporate their own lived experiences into service learning, and why narratives and storytelling is an important component in environmental justice. During Culmination Day (every Friday) participants will learn about local movements and projects that they and their families can participate in, and have an opportunity to share their own projects and stories.

Community Science [K-8]  

Participants will learn about the many different ways that communities study and contribute to science - including place-based knowledge. Youth will engage in a hands on community science project, practice different methods of data collection while thinking about who is considered a scientist and what it means to be a scientist outside of the lens of dominant culture/Western academia. Participants will reflect on what it means for them and their community to participate in science and how to redefine science.

Photojournalism [K-8]  

Equipped with digital cameras, participants will set off on a week long experience to capture some of the NW’s most beautiful natural spaces and local cultural historical landmarks. Through a camera lens, they will engage in environmental journalism - participants will learn what it means to be an advocate for environmental justice through recording changes within their own communities in the form of photography. Participants will begin to think about the various systems and relationships to and within nature and how they impact each other. Youth will reflect on how human activity impacts the climate and how climate change impacts humans.

Waterways [K-8]

Participants will learn about their local waterways and the interdependent relationships that rely and have relied on our local waterways. Youth will think about how colonization has historically impacted native species and BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) communities and how these communities continue to be impacted today. Participants and families will then have an opportunity to learn and connect with local groups that do work to restore water systems, quality, and ecosystems during Culmination Day (every Friday).

For questions, contact Asia Saechao at asia@campelso.org


Camp ELSO launches new Water Wednesday Initiative to prepare Black and Brown kids for a healthy lifelong relationship with water.

Black and Brown people have a complicated history with water due to historical factors and generational trauma. It is within this context that Camp ELSO exists and is taking steps in alignment with our new mission and call to action-centering the individual needs and lived experiences of Black and Brown communities- that we launch Water Wednesday. Water Wednesday is about removing barriers for Black and Brown children to access quality swim instruction and safety. Water Wednesday is also strategically fighting fear with education and practice.

Empowering Youth Through Water Safety

Historical and institutional racism has clouded the way Black and Brown children experience water. Children of color are at a higher risk for drowning. A recent study led by the Y investigates this history of racism, cultural and historical factors that cause Black and Brown children to be at higher risk for drowning. From the report:

1. Institutional racism 
Increased privatization of swimming lessons and pools as well as a history of exclusion set the context for
today’s low participation rates in swim lessons. A painful legacy of racial segregation and violent strife
surrounds the history of municipal swimming pools. This legacy helped to erect high barriers to swimming
participation that remain in place today.

2. Myths and stereotypes
A lack of representation in professional swim sports and false beliefs surrounding people of color and
swimming have also lead to restricted performance and limited participation.

3. Inherited fear of drowning
The USA Swimming Foundation study shows that if a parent does not know how to swim, there is only a 13
percent chance that their child will learn how to swim. When adult role models fear water, or have been
negatively impacted by the above experiences, their comfort level with swimming is passed down to younger