4-H camp counselor has as much fun as kids

Published 12:00 am Sunday, June 26, 2005

Dianette Ferguson used to learn from 4-H camp counselors. Now she teaches them.

&uot;It was a new environment, and I got to meet new people,&uot; Ferguson said of her days as a young participant at the old camp, which met at Fort Story in Virginia Beach before moving to Wakefield.

Eventually, the John Yeates High School graduate became a counselor, an adult volunteer and, in 1997, the camp extension agent. Once a week every summer, she heads to Wakefield to watch over hundreds of Suffolk and Northampton County youngsters.

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&uot;I’ve seen the camp grow,&uot; said Ferguson, who oversees Suffolk’s youth development program. &uot;I’ve seen teens take on an active, more sincere role with leadership. There’s been greater interest from the adults in the community. The most exciting thing is to come back and see the kids say, ‘When can I start training to be a counselor?’&uot;

For King’s Fork High student Dorothy Morrison, that journey began back in December when she interviewed to counsel the kids.

&uot;It’s fun to have the kids look up to you,&uot; said Morrison, 15. &uot;(Ferguson) gave me a nice opportunity to get this job. I’m going to use it as a reference on job applications. I had a lot of responsibility.&uot;

&uot;When we were training,&uot; said new trainer Tiffany Trim, a Lakeland High student, &uot;(Ferguson) taught us how to treat the campers and respect the grounds. If we had a problem, we could go to her.&uot;

So could the campers, said King’s Fork High student James Ridley.

&uot;She plans great activities,&uot; he said of Ferguson. &uot;She talks to us on our level, like she’s our age.&uot;

When the kids start wanting to move up in the camping ranks, Ferguson said, &uot;it says that they’re receiving something that works for them. A lot of skills that they learn here, they transfer home. Some of them have never left home; some of them have never made their own bed. But the campers here can get very competitive; they want to make their room perfect.&uot;

On Wednesday afternoon, she noted, eight of the 14 cabins received perfect ratings on their morning inspection.

Leading the camp is a bit more than the typical 9-to-5 job, she continued.

&uot;For the kids, the days go until about 11 p.m.,&uot; she said. &uot;For (the instructors), it never ends. We have to make sure everybody’s asleep. We walk around so if they even think about getting up, we’ll be there.

&uot;I would like to see an opportunity for more children to be able to attend the camp,&uot; she said of her hopes for the future. &uot;The cost was $150 this year, and I think it will continue to climb. I’d like to see more organizations and businesses sponsor the camp, so a child who doesn’t have $150 will be able to attend.&uot;