This year marked my final year as a 4-H Camp Counselor. At 4-H Camp I have learned valuable lessons and have seen those same lessons learned by my campers.
I still remember my first year in the woods of Hickory Run State Park at 4-H Camp Shehaqua. I still remember the counselors cheering as we got off the bus and I remember not understanding what it meant to be in the "deer animal group." I still remember dragging my duffle bag of clothing into Unit 4 Junior Boys Camping Area.
Being a camper I learned to be independent. I had been out in the woods before, but never without my family or, for that matter, overnight. At camp I made my own bed every day because we wanted to win the clean cabin award every time - competition is always a good motivator. As a camper I met 4-Hers from eight different counties and made lifelong friends. Camp provided me with an opportunity to meet 4-Hers from different project areas and 4-Hers with different backgrounds. Some nights we stayed up late telling ghost stories. Other nights we talked to first year campers about the awesome activities that were scheduled for the next day. I learned to trust older 4-Hers who I looked up to as a camper and as a counselor.
I also got to better understand nature knee deep in the stream trying to catch crawfish and determine if it is healthy. Something like a mouse living near you might be a pest in your own home but here in camp, it's part of life. Animals are a common sight in the woods and for many campers this can be a once in a life time event. Wildlife can be intimidating but also very wondrous to young campers. Campers are allowed to explore the wilderness supervised by trained counselors and staff to ensure that they don’t wander from the trail or ensure they stay at a safe distance from the wildlife which can include deer, turkeys, and even bears.
Since my first year in camp I have worn the nickname "George of the Jungle" as a badge of honor. The ropes course is a personal challenge course where each portion of the course is attempted solo with the cheering support of staff, counselors, and fellow campers. These challenges are intended to help campers prepare themselves to face future challenges. The ropes course gets the campers in the mindset that they can overcome any challenge. Here you try to do better than your best on the course. For me the ropes course took a small boy and helped him over come his fear of heights.
At fourteen years old, I became a 4-H Camp Counselor. Most other youth camps have college students as their counselors, but in 4-H older teenagers get the opportunity to serve as Camp Counselors. Being a 4-H Camp Counselor is a huge responsibility. I realized quickly how to care for younger kids by ensuring that they got up on time, got to where they have to be, and were eating properly. I learned how to deal with homesickness and other fears that my campers might be experiencing. I began to treat my campers like younger siblings and made sure that they were okay and that they continued to have the best camping experience of their lives. I began to value knowing every single classic camp song because the campers love every song that they hear. I quickly realized that these younger campers wanted to be just like me; how I acted in front of the younger campers really matters. I began to see the importance of training prior to camp; I was entrusted with these younger 4-Hers safety.
Older 4-Hers learn valuable teambuilding skills as counselors at 4-H Residential Camp. They attend trainings throughout the year where they get to bond together as a group and begin to realize what others' strengths and weaknesses are. Some teens will quickly become leaders and others will become supporters. Camp gives older 4-Hers that edge when it comes to being part of a team by training them to be team players, able to work with people that they might not even know. New counselors replace older counselors, changing the team constantly at camp. The teambuilding skills that counselors gain help them get comfortable with each other fast and enable them to ensure the camp's success.
My favorite memories of my first year as a counselor are of those campers. I can still hear the Junior Boys marching to the ropes course with a buddy to the camp song I selected, The Moose Song; no one expected the Junior Boys to listen so respectfully to their young counselor. Then my second year as a counselor my returning campers requested to be in my animal group again. My campers have changed my life - suddenly I loved kids and I knew I had to go back.
My first camp counselor telling me, "I was once a normal teenager, then I became a 4-H Camp Counselor" rings in my ears when I think about all of the lessons I have learned. I was once a normal teenager, but know I have been changed for the better. I have worked with some of the best people in the world which include staff and counselors which will forever be some of my closest friends. I have seen young campers who started when I was just a first year counselor grow into what will be some of the finest counselors I have ever seen. I have made connections with fellow 4-Hers from around the state with just one word, CAMP. 4-H camping is in my opinion where 4-Hers grow up in a weeks time. I have seen it occur repeatedly and I hope that 4-H camping must always be a part of the Pennsylvania 4-H experience.