HEDGESVILLE – After a two-year hiatus without in-person camps due to COVID-19 and the holding of a virtual summer camp, the Tri-County 4-H Camp in Hedgesville was pleased to welcome back hundreds of campers this year. The campers were equally excited as they participated in many activities over the week.
Over the past week, participants between the ages of 15 and 21 have attended the camp, some attending for the first time and others returning.
West Virginia University Berkeley County 4-H extension worker Michael Withrow said he’s glad to see so many campers coming back after all they’ve been through.
“It shows how resilient our program is,” Withrow said. “A lot of times in a lot of these youth programs in particular, the kids are so busy with their lives. COVID has accelerated this for so many children. There are so many parts it takes to put something like this together that often we take it for granted. To have this number of children coming back is incredible.
The theme of the camp was “Survivor”, and it represented the growth, change and resilience mentioned by Withrow.
“I’m excited to be back at camp because every year camp was the only week in the summer where I get to celebrate with everyone that we’re in 4-H. The fact that we are back and can do it again, it makes my heart so happy that we can once again celebrate our presence in 4-H,” said Julie Snyder of Berkeley County.
“One of the main reasons that in-person 4-H camp is different from virtual camp is simply because of being at Camp Frame. Camp Frame has its own energy, its own thing,” acknowledged Ashton Lazorick, also of Berkeley County.
Molly Ott of Jefferson County was also thrilled to be back at camp.
“Even after two years, to come back and see not much has changed here, it’s pretty much the same camp we had two years ago even though we didn’t go. It’s nice to see everyone back here. We have so much energy and love to give this year,” Ott said.
Serenity McGowan of Morgan County said returning to camp helps campers remember their 4-H roots.
“Camp helps us realize the true purpose of our 4-H presence, connections, collaboration and more. It’s nice to be back,” McGowan said.
Jamison Smith of Jefferson County had his first year at 4-H camp this year as a counselor.
“It’s been so much fun,” he said. “I’m glad the kids can go out and do things they love to do, especially here. They can go out for a week and do something other than just sit at home, they learn new things.”
Each year for the past seven years, older camp participants have participated in a community service project while at camp. Originally, the service project was intended to benefit Mountaineer Food Bank, but it has since grown, impacting the community locally as well.
This year, 1,500 first aid kits and 200 women’s health/self-care kits were packed, and campers also helped make no-sew blankets for the Berkeley County chapter of Project Linus.
Withrow said the project grew over time throughout the year, overwhelmed with support and donations.
He said it not only grew in number, but also in significance, as those who helped plan the service activity began to envision what the crisis would look like for those who would need the “survivor kits” in manufacturing course.
“I could just tell in the 14 weeks of camp planning, how much it grew and how much they started to think outside the box. That was the beauty of it all, everything was planned for the campers” , Withrow said.
He added that campers realized that community service is a selfless act, understanding and appreciating that you don’t need recognition to have an impact.
“I think 4-H isn’t just about singing and dancing,” Lazorick said. “It’s nice to get involved and work to help others, especially in our community. It says in our pledge that we work to build a better community and world.
Snyder said she values the service activity because it repays the community in creative ways.
“There are so many people in our community who do so much for us and make it happen for us, so if we can give back to them, it means more than words can say,” said Snyder.
Ott called the service activity a “reset,” giving them a chance to reflect.
“You never know where it’s going to go or who it’s going to affect; it’s nice to know you’re helping the community,” Ott said.
“I love the idea of the service project. It gives us the idea that even outside of camp, we can still do community service and give back,” McGowan said.
To follow older campers, Intermediate Camp, which includes ages 12-14, will accommodate several first-time campers as well as returning campers who have attended camp virtually for the past two years.
In two weeks, the young campers take part in the festivities of the campsite with the 9-12 year olds. Each camper participating in the younger camp will be participating for the first time.
Amanda Johnson, a 4-H agent with the West Virginia University Jefferson County Extension Service since 2019, is spending her first year camping this year in the Eastern Panhandle alongside campers. She expressed her enthusiasm to share this opportunity with those she will supervise.
“I can’t wait to see the magic of camp and how when you’re at camp you’re family and you fit in,” Johnson said. “They experience that, and it’s really special.”
She said there would be 144 campers at the younger camp and they are all new. Johnson said this year, with everyone being first-time campers, she sees it as an opportunity to meet the kids where they are.
“We are more than cattle. We are scientists; we are creative arts. We are everything, and we have something for everyone. We accept everyone,” Johnson said. “What I’ve always thought was special about camp is that the kids always say, ‘This is the only place where I don’t need to be someone else; I can just be me,” and they feel comfortable doing that because we’re a safe environment. They can come, have a carefree week and just be a kid.
Withrow added that 4-H prepares children in many ways.
“Yes, school prepares them in many ways for life. But 4-H gives them the opportunity to find their passion, develop it and turn it into who they are,” he said. “I think a lot of times we don’t give kids enough credit. They’re smart enough, they’re passionate enough, they believe in themselves enough to go as far as they want. If we don’t give them the opportunity to grow with themselves or provide them with the catalyst to take them to the next level, they become complacent.
Visit https://extension.wvu.edu/ for more program information or registration.