All summer residential and day camps at Holiday Lake 4-H Educational Center have been moved to a virtual platform in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Children in Louisa County’s 4-H programs are among those who would normally be headed to Holiday Lake, in Appomattox County, this summer for camp.
“For me as a staff member, this camp has been a part of my life since I was about 10 years old,” said Delaney Bias, a summer staff member at Holiday Lake. “To see that something I got to experience for so many years be taken away from the next generation was devastating.”
Even as news of the coronavirus spread, program staff were still hopeful that summer camp would happen. But on April 10, all summer camps were canceled.
“Over 2,000 campers will not be able to experience camp this summer because of the pandemic,” said Heather Benninghove, Holiday Lake’s director. “Because we are a nonprofit we will incur a hard financial loss; camping season is where most of our budget comes from.”
“Many kids that attend 4-H camp come from hard circumstances,” said Amy Fox, summer staff member at Holiday Lake. “For example, I was referred because my mom had cancer and my dad [did not have] custody of me because of abuse.”
Camp is where these children flourish and have the chance to express who they truly are to people who welcome them with open arms.
“Camp provides many important experiences for children, especially disadvantaged ones,” said Mazie Doss, another summer staff member. “A lot of our camps operate season to season, and I hope that we have the financial fortitude to bounce back for 2021. Being unable to provide that service at an affordable price next summer for our communities would be a grievous loss for our youth.”
According to the American Camping Association, there are many skills that campers can learn that directly transfer to real-life situations. Teamwork, relationship skills and organization are among the many traits the ACA found that campers have taken into their real lives.
After Holiday Lake staff took time to mourn the loss of summer camps this year, it was time to get to work on how they would engage campers while not physically being with them. Instead of the normal schedule where staff training would begin in the middle of May and counties would camp each week after that, all camps have moved to an online format.
“We had to accept the decision that was made,” said Levi Callahan, program director at Holiday Lake. “As soon as we did that, we were moving forward with how we can reach the community virtually.”
According to the University of Wisconsin—Madison, the online format requires different strategies than would normally be employed in a face-to-face format. In an academic setting, online courses do not have the level of physical engagement that would be present in an in-person classroom. Behavior is harder to control in an online setting and practices of “netiquette” need to be put in place to have a successful course.
The 4-H pledge encompasses the many ideals and values that 4-Hers hold close. According to the National 4-H Office, the 4-H pledge is as follows: “I pledge my head to clearer thinking, my heart to greater loyalty, my hand to larger service and my health to better living, for my club, my community, my country and my world.” Keeping these words in mind, the program staff planned the online camp program.
There will be 10 weeks of camp, each with a distinct theme such as hometown heroes and the great outdoors. Activities and classes will be planned around these themes and campers will be able to participate through Zoom.
“I know that this will be something that can help the center in the future,” said Bias. “We can bring interest to new families and campers who have never attended in the past. They will be able to see some of the programs that we offer and the camp spirit through an online format.”
The goal of all of the activities and classes is to engage campers in some of the scenarios that they would have been in during a regular week of camp. For example, making crafts with materials that campers can find in their home and their backyard is just one way Holiday Lake plans to engage with the kids.
Since campers will be losing the crucial aspect of being able to interact with and make friends with their peers, talent shows and campfires will be held every week. While the experience will not be the same, these activities will supplement some of those crucial interactions that campers would normally get while at camp.
All online camps are free of charge. There will be t-shirts and craft kits for sale and a donation page on the Holiday Lake website for people who feel inclined to show their support during these unfortunate times.
While in-person experiences will not take place this summer, campers will still be able to learn many skills that they would have learned at camp. This pandemic has taught everyone — campers, staff and parents alike — to be resilient in a hard time.
Ryan Adcock is a Nelson County native and Virginia Tech student who attended camp at Holiday Lake for many years.