This article is written by Cornell Cooperative Extension Wayne County 4-H Team Leader Jessica Spence.
4-H Camp Beechwood, nestled along the Maxwell Creek and the beautiful shoreline of Lake Ontario at Beechwood State Park, is a weeklong day camp for youth ages 5–12. The camp provides a safe and inclusive environment that fosters a lifelong love of nature.
Run by the Cornell Cooperative Extension Wayne County 4-H Youth Development program, 4-H Camp Beechwood got its start in 2013 hosting 17 campers with funds donated by the closure of the ALASA Academy, who had run a children’s day camp in the same location. By 2019, the camp had grown to 39 campers, and was still delivering on the original goals: to provide leadership and workforce development training for the teens who serve as counselors, and to expose campers to natural resources and STEM concepts in the outdoors
This year, in light of the Coronavirus Pandemic, counselors and staff worked together to provide a safe camp experience for all by offering 4-H Camp Beechwood: Operation Camp from Home. With a continued emphasis on environmental education and social/emotional wellbeing, 30 campers experienced an alternative camp experience the week of July 6th that incorporated camp favorites like opening and closing circles, cabin time with a counselor, guest presenters, and recreation activities, along with a daily video introduction to different aspects of Beechwood State Park.
In a post-camp survey in 2019, 100% of campers felt that the staff and counselors at 4-H Camp Beechwood “cared about them” and 100% of participants reported knowing more about the environment after attending camp. Feedback from the 2020 parent survey included, “
My kids have always loved this camp. It was a chance for some normalcy (in virtual form) during this unpredictable time.” “From my point of view it was the smiles and her face and excited voice when she told us what she did each day – she had so much fun!”
An important part of the camp experience for the counselors is planning camp activities. This year’s camp would not be possible without the counselors who proved to be creative, out of the box thinkers, willing to step up and try something new, and who rolled with the punches and made camp an amazing experience! Of the 13 counselors, ages 13-17, nine were returning and four were brand new to 4-H Camp Beechwood. Counselors participate in three counselor trainings each year, one virtual and two in person. This model was continued in 2020 utilizing safe practices following the CDC guidelines. Both in-person trainings were held at camp but were very different from the previous year’s trainings. This year focused on online teaching, virtual team building, and planning activities that utilized supplies that could be mailed to campers in a box. Teens brainstormed engaging online guest presenters, locations at camp that camp families could be encouraged to visit on their own, and how to effectively host the opening and closing circles and moderate break out rooms on Zoom. At daily debrief sessions, they spoke highly of the camp experience and the sense of belonging that was still able to happen in a virtual cabin!
Camp also had a lot of support from 4-H staff across the state who were willing to help try out this new model and who genuinely proved that they can be dynamic presenters in any environment. Frequently reported as the favorite part of camp each year, Nate Kennedy from CCE Seneca County was the guest presenter on the “fishing” themed day to talk about 4-H Fishing Fun. John Bowe from CCE Warren County presented on Wild Edibles for “foods” day, and Renee Hopkins of CCE Livingston County demonstrated the science behind magic tricks for “science” day. “Wildlife” day welcomed Josh Teeter from NYS Parks, and our “art” day guest presenter was Wayne County 4-H volunteer Maureen Mahoney demonstrating Irish Dance steps. Daily cabin activities also corresponded to the day’s theme, including a homemade fishing game, ice cream in a bag, make your own bug house and bug BINGO game, creating recycled animals and their habitats, and soil science and soil painting, provided by Charles Malone, 4-H STEM Geospatial Science and Renewable Energy Educator. Each day also featured a recreation activity presented by Adam Bullock from Finger Lakes SNAP-Ed.
Although the traditional camp high fives were sorely missed, 4-H Camp Beechwood: Operation Camp from Home provided just as many smiles on camper’s faces, and that is the ultimate goal!
“Honestly, from our experience, I can’t think of any improvements! You did an amazing job and we thank you for it!”
—2020 Camp Parent
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