FRANKLIN COUNTY, Va. (WFXR) — With many activities for children postponed or canceled this summer, Virginia 4-H is stepping up and offering a variety of programs to children online.
“COVID-19 has completely changed the face of camp this summer,” says Rayna Wheeler, program director at the W.E. Skelton 4-H Educational and Conference Center in Wirtz.
The Wirtz facility is one of six centers across the Commonwealth that provides learning experiences for children and teens throughout the year. Their summer camps and programs are often the most popular, lodging 350-500 participants each week on site.
With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and a lack of reservations, Virginia 4-H leaders are already estimating a $3.5 million-dollar loss from all six educational centers.
The decision to cancel 4-H summer camps was made in alignment with Virginia Tech’s announcement that all summer classes must be conducted online instead of in person to help flatten the curve.
Wheeler had previously worked as an outdoor education coordinator since 2010. She says she took the news pretty hard.
“It was really devastating when I found out camp was not going to happen. It was obviously the best choice, because safety is our number one priority, but it hits hard for people who call camp home,” says Wheeler.
For 100 years, Virginia 4-H has emphasized the holistic approach of child development: head, heart, hands, and health.
With the online platform, the youth development education program is now creating new spaces for children and teens to learn life skills; develop a sense of community and connection; and enjoy activities such as cooking, engineering, and animal science.
“This is giving us the opportunity to open it up to people who normally would not have been able to due to so many different things,” says Wheeler.
While the virtual camps do require internet connection, 4-H leaders say they have plans in place for children and teens who may not have that necessity.
“Young people will have a schedule and a set of materials in which they can move through some of the traditional camp experiences that they would have at home. There’ll be opportunities for those folks to take pictures and to share video after the camp experience, but still creating that sense of what does it mean to be apart of a 4-H camp community,” says Jeremy Johnson, State 4-H Leader at Virginia 4-H.
Johnson adds that while leaders will continue to build and grow the 4-H program with online resources and new topics, they still plan on resuming their in-person summer camps next year.
“What’s most important about the 4-H experience is creating youth-adult partnerships and creating an opportunity for a sense of connection and of longing. So while I don’t see online programming being the primary way in which we reach youth, it’s certainly a way we are able to be able to expand our reach,” says Johnson.
For more information about the 4-H virtual summer camps, visit their website here.
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