By: Terry Harris, Staff Writer
12:44 p.m. | August 10, 2017
SUSSEX & SURRY, Va. – Shouts of laughter and encouragement echoed through the air July 17 – 21 at Airfield 4H Center as campers from Surry and Sussex Counties joined other 9 to 12-year-olds from Portsmouth, Norfolk, and Petersburg for a week of summer fun. But according to 4H Youth Development Extension Agents LaSonya White (Surry) and James Mason (Sussex), while they were having fun with old and new friends, the kids also were learning valuable life skills – and a great deal more.
“4H Camp is a very important learning experience for youth,” said White, “because while they’re learning to swim, paddle canoes, and participate in other activities like archery, they’re also learning things that they will use forever.”
White said that each camper was assigned to a team upon arrival so they could learn to interact positively with other team members during their stay while participating in both daytime classes and nighttime activities.
“During the day,” White continued, “They got to choose from 10-15 classes – everything from fun with food, where they learned about nutrition as they made things like smoothies and trail mix, to robotics, where they learned to program Lego robots. Then every night there were less structured team activities like a Get Acquainted Social, Carnival Night, Dance night, and a Talent Show.”
She explained how within the activities campers also learned character traits like responsibility and respect and caring, which the leaders reinforced with rewards.
“They participated in community service,” she said. “Things like going around and collecting cans and bottles at the camp for recycling. And every night someone who was observed during the day being ‘helpful’ for example, was awarded a banner for things like picking up trash when no one asked them to. It was just great watching the kids develop through the week, making friends, having fun – and learning the whole time.”
Mason said, “Camp also teaches them responsibility and ownership as it exposes them to kids from both rural and city areas. It gives them different views of life experience – opens their eyes and shows them there are other things in the world besides the county they’re from.”
Mason explained that he believes one reason that the camps are so valuable is that they put kids, informally, in positive positions they might not normally experience, and that his favorite memories from this summer’s camp came from watching kids grow in ways they never expected.
“One of my campers, Kaieshia Williams, I put her into a leadership role for the first time,” he said. “During the week she learned to communicate with large groups effectively as well as other skills of being a leader. When it was time to go, she said she was proud of herself for getting the job done and seeing herself grow. And we had one camper that didn’t think she was going to be able to make it through the week. But, with everyone encouraging her, she actually made it. That was big for her.”
“I learned a big lesson too,” he added, “that basically you really can’t judge a book by its cover. During camp, some might have started off quiet, keeping to themselves. But by Wednesday they were coming out of their shells – growing, being caring and empathetic in different situations – cheering each other on.”