Starfish: A summer camp report

The 4-H camp's lake in Front Royal. Photo by Jenny Kapsa.
The 4-H camp’s lake in Front Royal. Photo by Jenny Kapsa.

By Liz Blubaugh
Special to the Rappahannock News

It was a surprising sight at 7:30 in the morning. On a wintry February day, in the Peter Kramer building in Washington, a line of 15 adults waited patiently on the stairs leading up to Rappahannock’s Cooperative Extension office. Each held registration papers for the 4-H camps offered in June, summer camps for Rappahannock children ages 6 to 13.

Within an hour, the 85 openings for the 4-H day camp had been claimed and the majority of the 50 openings for the overnight camp were similarly filled. Among the lucky campers were Headwaters’ Starfish Mentoring Program mentees, a total of 13 children destined to enjoy a week of summer enrichment and fun.

Why is there such a recognized demand for summer camps? “When you’re at home all summer, it’s so boring”, says Karley, a Starfish mentee. A five-day overnight adventure at 4-H camp in Front Royal, however, is “exercise, it’s fun, and you can meet new friends, all kinds,” Karley says. Best part – the swimming. Next best part – being there overnight and having time to spend with the other 50 Rappahannock campers and their teen counselors.

The Headwaters Foundation’s Starfish program recognized many years ago that it was important to provide local children with as many summer enrichment opportunities as possible. It has encouraged its mentees, children 6 to 17 years old, to engage in summer camps and courses, and has provided financial assistance to students to attend camps at 4-H, Belle Meade, the Piedmont Environmental Council’s Rappahannock Nature Camp, Boy Scouts, CCLC and several specialty learning sites. Each year, fees for Starfish mentee camps are raised at the Headwaters’ “Taste of Rappahannock” through a special community auction project.

Dalton Rakes (left) and Ethan Sumner in the pool at the 4-H facility in Front Royal. Photo by Jenny Kapsa.
Dalton Rakes (left) and Ethan Sumner in the pool at the 4-H facility in Front Royal. Photo by Jenny Kapsa.

It’s about active learning. A mentee’s mother appreciates the value of a summer camp for her sixth-grader. Camps “benefit my son because he gets to learn more about outdoor activities. [Camps] get him out of the house where his mind will be active . . . with other learning exercises, something other than him sitting in his room watching television or playing video games.” She recalls that last year, at Scouts camp at Camp Rock Enon, the camp site was flooded. “Parents couldn’t get in and [the Scouts] couldn’t get out. It taught them that they should expect the unexpected.”

Throughout June, July and August, there are traditionally several local summer camp opportunities in Rappahannock. Among them, Lyt Wood’s Rappahannock Nature Camp and Belle Meade’s Day Camp mix a healthy dose of environmental and balanced life learning with spirited fun in the County’s woods, fields and waters. There are extracurricular activities to be found at CCLC and other private school-based programs. However, even at a reasonable cost of $350 for a two-week program, a bargain by Northern Virginia standards, this price is out of reach for many of our families with children. The financial constraints are further exacerbated by potential campers’ transportation needs to and from camp or drop-off sites.

When they do participate in summer camps, the Starfish mentees are ecstatic about their experiences. KP particularly enjoyed “rockets and woodworking”; Kylea learned to “cook pizza with salad on top”; and Dalton’s all-time favorite was archery, although the first-time horseback riding was “pretty good.” “I liked that you had a schedule for every day and that you were with friends” in the 4-H Overnight camp, Dalton said.

Courtney Dodson and a friend at 4-H camp this summer. Photo by Jenny Kapsa.
Courtney Dodson and a friend at 4-H camp this summer. Photo by Jenny Kapsa.

“Belle Meade camp was great,” says mentee Kayla. “We saw newborn piglets. For our overnight stay, it rained so we slept in the schoolhouse . . . we stayed up late and played a lot of games.  When I woke up the next morning, I had a mustache painted on my face.  It was so much fun.  Please let me go back next year.”

Parents are similarly aware of the positives when kids attend summer camps. “They’re exposed to different and healthy activities; kids are encouraged to help one another and a camp environment allows them to be with others from all walks of life. [Our kids] see teen counselors exercising leadership skills, taking responsibility for themselves and others while having fun. This is great for our family.”

Perhaps Karley summed it up best: “This was the first time I’d been away [from family home] for 4 nights. I thought it’d be difficult. It wasn’t. I loved it. It was so much fun. I just wasn’t prepared for how great it was going to be!”

Starfish Mentoring was started in 1997 through Headwaters and provides vital support that many children need in meeting  the social, emotional and academic challenges of childhood and adolescence. Mentors are trained adult volunteers who meet regularly with children and provide social, recreational and educational activities – a mentor can often make the difference in a child’s life by helping them develop the necessary self-esteem and confidence to grow into a healthy, productive adult.  For more information about becoming a mentor or mentee, email or call 540-987-3322.

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