A community can be defined in any number of ways — a group of people living, learning, or working together, a sense of fellowship, or common interests. In a durable community, people share many of the same values and “perceive relationships of mutual concern,” as Charles Vogl describes.

In a durable community, people support one another, one small interaction or gathering at a time. 

On April 1, 2023, the St. Luke’s community hosted renowned author, speaker, and strategist Charles Vogl, who offered simple wisdom with huge benefits in the form of Building Campfires: creating durable communities. Recognizing the importance of this message, St. Luke’s sponsored this gathering to promote our principles of community, leadership, inclusion, and belonging. And we very intentionally promoted the Campfires event with our community beyond the Hilltop. In so doing, we hosted people from as far as Boston and Washington, D.C.!

230401_Building Campfires-Charles Vogl_066R (1)

The full-day, immersive Campfires experience was dynamic and thought-provoking from the very start. Imagine for a moment, 170 people sitting in the Seldin Performing Arts Center, and the speaker on stage pauses long enough to make sweeping, yet intentional, eye contact with every person sitting in the auditorium. As part of Vogl’s gathering ritual, we were then asked to hold up our phones and turn them off in unison. We were thanked for being “the people who showed up, on a rainy Saturday morning in April, to spend the day in a room with no windows.” And with that, the stage was set, and we collectively “camped out” for eight hours of listening, learning, discussion, and connection.

230401_Building Campfires-Charles Vogl_311 (2)

As a self-identified “community builder,” I keep a signed and weathered copy of Vogl’s award-winning book, The Art of Community, on the bookshelf in my office. Having read it some years ago, headed into Campfires I agreed with Vogl that “the best community building is an art.” Designed to spark connection and inspire collective action, everything about Campfires felt intentional and immediately operational. As foreground, Vogl painted a somewhat disheartening scene as it relates to the “loneliest era” we find ourselves in.

  • 79% of 18-24 year olds are lonely and lacking the skills to connect.
  • 52% of Americans report feeling lonely, while 47% report their relationships with others are not meaningful.
  • Only 59% of Americans say they have a best friend, and 12% say they feel they have no close friends at all.

230401_Building Campfires-Charles Vogl_275R

Luckily, there is a remedy for pronounced loneliness. According to Charles Vogl, genuine interpersonal connections help to offset the negative impacts of loneliness. When one feels genuinely connected, we “believe that others understand us intellectually and emotionally, and accept us for who we are.” This belief is essential for belonging–a fundamental human need.

To foster belonging, we need to deepen preexisting relationships and create new ones. To realize St. Luke’s Vision for Inclusive Excellence (VIE), all members of our community must feel valued, respected, and invested in the ongoing life and purpose of the school. Employing Vogl’s “enriching strategy,” focused on relationships, contributions, resilience, and health, will undoubtedly have a more positive impact on our VIE efforts. The alternative, “extracting strategy,” inevitably feels transactional and focused on time, attention, and revenue. With an emphasis on relationships and community well-being, I look forward to creating “campfire experiences” everywhere imaginable, in the hopes that at some point, every individual does genuinely feel appreciated and enriched at St. Luke’s.

230401_Building Campfires-Charles Vogl_076R

Of all the principles and distinctions made over the course of the day with Charles Vogl, the significance of individual invitations versus general announcements stands out for me. My main takeaways:

  1. A personal invitation is a request to spend time with someone who knows that we care if they show up or not. 
  2. And yet, whether or not the invitation is accepted is inconsequential.
  3. By picking up the phone for 40 seconds or sending a text message to invite a friend for coffee, we can all help combat the "crisis of belonging."

230401_Building Campfires-Charles Vogl_228R (1)

In thinking about how to apply my Campfires learning as the Director of Equity and Inclusion (E&I), I am reminded that the primary aim of this Office is to ensure that all members of the St. Luke’s community feel a sense of belonging and experience mutual respect on the Hilltop. After Campfires, I am thinking differently about how we measure progress toward this aim beyond a list of different groups on campus. The more we can embrace the “campfire principles,” making our invitations more personal; conversations more intimate; our spheres of concern more all-encompassing, the more connected to and curious about one another we might be. If we are to “perceive relationships of mutual concern” as a community on the Hilltop and beyond, let us all find ways to contribute and companion one another, one small act at a time.

Attendees' Reactions to Building Campfires

“Worth my intellectual, emotional, and physical time. I am better for it.”

"Thanks to St. Luke’s School and community for the welcoming opportunity. Our next-step actions are known, and now we will forge forward to generate better opportunities for the communities and for future generations."

"Vogl’s through-line concepts emphasize and specify intuitive community-building strategies in low-stakes, high-return actionable guidance. Showing up, persistence, and vulnerability as creative energies are explored and tapped. Loneliness as a serious nationwide (worldwide?) problem is addressed with viable solutions offered for consideration. Vogl presents in a humble, precise way that draws the audience into his simple methodology. Community forms AS it is discussed. Pretty brilliant!"

This points the way toward rebuilding communities and establishing new communities of people who genuinely care about each other. - Attendee

It was such a refreshing, inspiring, insightful, and motivating day. It caused me to think on so many of the ways I interact with friends and family. I loved the idea of invitations which is such a simple idea and so easily actionable! It was fantastic to combine both speaking and small group work to really feel the impact of so many ideas. I’m looking forward to building a more meaningful connection with the skills and tips I learned today. - Attendee

It was such a POSITIVE day and experience. I left feeling grateful and lucky to have been able to attend and be a part of our SLS community. Thank you! - Attendee

See the complete photo gallery from Building Campfires: Creating durable communities.

Visit St. Luke's Equity & Inclusion webpage to explore how we approach this important work. 

St. Luke’s is a private, secular (non-religious) independent school in New Canaan, CT serving grades 5-12. St. Luke’s mission: An exceptional education that inspires a deep love of learning, a strong moral compass, the commitment to serve, and the confidence to lead.  


Learn more about St. Luke's - download our brochure





Leave a comment

Recent Articles

Popular Articles