In 4-H, we often suggest some of the best things we can offer children are experiences they would not otherwise have had. For some kids, that means a trip to an aquarium or a university campus. For others, it can mean something Alabamians of previous generations considered their birthright: a chance to wade in a creek, hike through a forest or walk along our beautiful Alabama beaches. And to those of us who are a little more worldly, it is sometimes surprising to realize how many of our kids have never been away from their home communities and for whom a visit to a mall or the county court house is an amazing new experience.
Did you go to 4-H summer camp when you were young? In the summertime, Alabama 4-H still offers tremendous, enriching new opportunities to young people. 4-H Summer Camp is a safe and nurturing environment where kids (and Mom and Dad) often test their independence through those first nights out from under protective parental wings. The summer camping program at the state-of-the-art Alabama 4-H Youth Development Center on Lay Lake provides a low-cost mixture of education and adventure. It introduces many young people to Alabama’s outdoors. Camp gives kids a chance to meet new friends, challenge themselves and learn in the great "hands-on" tradition of 4-H.
Summer is the time when 4-H club members gather for regional round-ups and for our State Competitive Events Day. Competition allows young people to demonstrate their level of knowledge and mastery against their peers, and these regional and state events can help young people build their self-assurance and test themselves. Contemporary round-ups also have an educational aspect matching fun with learning in the best 4-H tradition.
Every county 4-H program provides day camps and special events helping young people productively fill those long, summer hours. For Cleburne County, that includes June’s 4-H Red Cross Babysitting Course and the Cooking School held in July. As a university-based educational youth development program, we are well aware students traditionally lose ground during the summer when school is out. Research indicates out-of-school time programs can make a difference.
With that in mind, St. Clair County 4-H created their Clover Classroom. For the past five years, county youth have participated in great workshops. This year’s topics include archery, culinary arts, sport fishing and a GPS scavenger hunt. There is even a Road Trip to Auburn so the kids can get a sense of what life is like on a college campus. With the involvement of volunteer leaders and the support of community partners, the Clover Classroom is a great example of how 4-H allows children to learn and have fun while avoiding the proverbial "summer learning slump."
With our ongoing initiative to assist Alabama’s military families, this year we have offered three great camps for military youth. Fort Clover is our largest and oldest camp. For a full week, Fort Clover hosts 120 children of deployed members of our armed forces for a full week at the 4-H Center. Camp We Can is a unique and amazing summer opportunity for military families who have children with special needs, including not only the special needs youth, but engaging the full family. Our third military summer camp is Camp Amazing Race. This four-day camp is designed especially for teens, involving 50 older youth in learning teamwork, creativity and problem-solving.
Yes, somewhere people can say: "Summer time, when the living is easy…." In 4-H, there are many more adjectives that come to mind: exciting, fun, instructive and, sometimes, a little bit strenuous. But no matter the event or activity, 4-H ultimately provides young people with experiences we hope are enriching and rewarding for them. We hope you will encourage young people to participate in those experiences. If you share our commitment to Alabama’s young people, we also hope you will turn that commitment through service as a 4-H club leader or volunteer. Talk with your county Extension office about how you can "make the best better."
Chuck Hill is the 4-H Youth Development Specialist.