Many University of Georgia Extension offices across the state have begun registration for summer camp at Georgia's 4-H centers. Each year about 8,000 campers, along with adult and teen leaders, attend 4-H camp and create memories and friendships that last a lifetime.
Randy Cruse, 55, of Griffin, still remembers his first week of camp as a Bibb County 4-H'er. "That first day, I called and begged my mama to come get me. By the end of the week, I hated to have to go home," he said. Cruse attended camp again the next year and, as an adult, encouraged his son, Peter, to become involved in 4-H.
Cruse recently visited Rock Eagle, some 40 years after his first 4-H camp experience. "Some things have changed physically, but it's still the same," he said as he began to recall memories of learning to braid, make woven baskets and graft plants. He also remembered attending the Rock Eagle pageant on the last night of camp.
Campers to the Rock Eagle 4-H Center, Georgia 4-H's largest center, will be housed in 22 new cabins this summer, in addition to 26 of the original cabins.
"Not quite half of our cabins are new, but, by the 2016 camping season, we will have at least 28 new cabins and possibly 34 new cabins," said Charlie Wurst, head of the Georgia 4-H camping program. "We certainly appreciate the public and private support that has made these improvements possible."
Camp officially begins on June 1 at the Rock Eagle 4-H Center in Eatonton, Wahsega 4-H Center in Dahlonega, Fortson 4-H Center in Hampton and Burton 4-H Center on Tybee Island. Camp on Jekyll Island is taking a hiatus while the facilities undergo renovations.
In the meantime, Georgia 4-H is busy preparing for this season's campers. "Lifeguards are being trained, background checks are being run on all of our volunteers-we are taking all the important steps to provide the safest atmosphere for all of our campers," Wurst said. "We certainly want to have a safe week of camp, but we also want the week of camp to be fun. If it's not fun, it's not camp."
Even with the emphasis on safety and fun, Georgia 4-H's summer camps take their educational mission very seriously, he said.
"We provide classes for campers to learn more about healthy living through good fitness and nutrition choices," Wurst said. "We use our indoor and outdoor classrooms to teach about wildlife and their supporting ecosystems and we are offering more workshops to spark interest in science and technology. And, of course, campers learn more about themselves as they experience being on their own away from home."
Many campers go on to become active 4-H'ers, teen leaders at camp, and 4-H summer camp counselors, like Abby Harrison of Royston.
"Summer camp has been an absolutely amazing experience for me over the past four years. After ninth, 10th and 11th grades, I teen led for the Cloverleaf camps my county attended," she said. "Now, having gone through my first year as a camp counselor, I feel like I not only learned even more about working with kids, but also valuable lessons about working with others and sharing living space."
Tyler Gray of Harlem was a summer camp counselor at Rock Eagle last summer. She taught canoeing classes and was a lifeguard.
"The campers taught me how to always put others first and treat everyone with utmost kindness. I loved that I was given the opportunity to impact children simply by giving them the best thing of all-time," she said.
Georgia 4-H is filled with teenagers with individual stories about their own camp experiences. Wurst's job is to help University of Georgia 4-H agents continue to help students create camp memories.
"Our job is to give the kids a safe, fun and 4-H-focused experience," said Wurst, a former Lincoln County 4-H'er. "The ultimate payoff is that the kids leave camp excited about becoming more involved or staying involved in 4-H and experiencing all the benefits of being involved in 4-H."
Camps are offered this summer for senior, junior and Cloverleaf campers. To learn more about Georgia 4-H camp or to register a camper, contact your local UGA Extension office at 1-800-ASK-UGA1.