A week in the life of a 4-H camper

Published 12:00 am Thursday, August 12, 2004

Suffolk News-Herald

It was the summer of 2003, and Erin Stenstrum had just finished her fourth grade year at Nansemond-Suffolk Academy. With three months off, what was she to do?

&uot;I thought I’d have a boring summer,&uot; she said. &uot;I couldn’t go anywhere, because my sister hadn’t gotten her driver’s license yet.&uot;


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One day, her mother received a letter from the 4-H Camp in Wakefield, and Erin decided to give it a shot. But things didn’t get off to a great start – she and the rest of the campers had to wake up at 6 a.m.!

&uot;I’m used to not waking up until seven,&uot; she said. &uot;I called 6 a.m. the o’dark hour.&uot;

Once shaking themselves to wake, the campers would head to a nearby building to do a bit of &uot;spazzercising,&uot; an aerobic routine of jumping jacks, punches, twirls, and other wake-up workouts. They’d raise the flag and recite the 4-H Pledge: &uot;I pledge my head to clearer thinking, my heart to greater loyalty, my hands to larger service, my health to better living, for my club, my community, my country and my world.&uot;

Then they put their words into action in class. Erin picked up a bow and arrow, and aimed it at a target. She missed.

&uot;I’d never done archery, and I was surprised,&uot; she said. &uot;I thought you just grabbed a bow and shot somewhere. It was hard to aim.&uot; She’d play soccer, swim in the pool, and take some nature walks.

But even though she was only about half an hour from home, it was still too long a separation – especially for someone too young to drive.

&uot;I was used to waking up and seeing my mom,&uot; she said. &uot;I got homesick a little. But then we had a carnival, and I went and forget all about it.

&uot;When I got home, it was boring again,&uot; she said. &uot;All the staff members were really nice. I couldn’t wait to come back.&uot; On Monday morning, she got her chance as the camp swung back into session. Erin was one of nearly 200 kids from Suffolk and Northampton to head to Wakefield for the 2004 session.

&uot;It’s been much better than last year,&uot; she said Wednesday, taking a break from the pool. &uot;Some of my friends came with me. I’ve learned riflery and outdoor living skills, because I’ve always been interested in gun safety and I love being outdoors.&uot;

Across the camp, kids swan-dove into the pool, shot baskets, put together arts and crafts, and cast out fishing poles. Classes on theatrical arts, dancing, nutrition, face painting, balloon animals, forestry, tennis and journalism were held. On Friday, the newspaper class will put out its creation, the &uot;Clover Patch.&uot;

Over on the obstacle course, Nansemond Parkway Elementary student Devin Pisani prepared to put his life in his fellow campers’ hands – literally. As par of the challenge course, he was participating in the &uot;trust fall,&uot; in which he’d stand on a platform, cross his arms in front of his chest and fall backwards, where his teammates were (hopefully!) waiting to catch him.

The 10-year-old took a deep breath, and fell back. Fortunately, he was snared before meeting the grass. &uot;I was thinking, ‘Please catch me!’&uot; he said. &uot;I was nervous, because I thought I would hit the ground.&uot;

Later, he and his bunk-mates would swing from tree to tree like Tarzan, climb up a 10-foot wall, and run along thin planks of wood, trying not to fall off.

By now, it was almost 4 p.m., or, for counselors like Chuck Terell, about mid-day. &uot;Counselors have a long, long day,&uot; said the 10-year veteran of the camp, also a Suffolk police officer. &uot;Our day starts at about 6 a.m., and we don’t get to bed until about 1 a.m. We help get the kids up, make sure they get to their classes, and make sure they’re safe. A lot of these kids have never held a fishing pole, never been swimming or canoeing, so they need some help.&uot;

Erin’s not the only camper who misses the safety of her house, he continued.

&uot;There’s quite a bit of kids who have never been away from home. There’s a lot of talking, shoulder-crying, and as a last resort, we let them call home.&uot;

To help the children make new friends, they’re often bunked with new people. That’s one of the biggest reasons why former camper Julianne Bathe went from being a camper to a counselor, and to an adult leader.

&uot;Over the years, I’ve made a

lot of friends,&uot; said the recent Paul D. Camp Community College graduate. &uot;Rather than being in charge of one group, I’m looking after a whole lodge. It’s like being a mom.&uot;

After eight years as a camper, Lakeland student Dermaine Waters became a counselor for this season.

&uot;When I was little, this was always exciting,&uot; he said. &uot;The games, the food, the friends, everything. I learned how to treat the kids, and have some patience and self-discipline. I’ve learned to be a good role model, and show a positive attitude. It’s taught me to help kids with their problems.&uot;

A few years from now, he might have some company. &uot;I’d love to be a counselor,&uot; Erin said. &uot;They get first dibs on beds!&uot;