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Florida 4-H Camping: Making the Best Better

By Cody Helmer and Michael Gutter

44-52-2. That is the official standing (with some debate) for the Gators in the football rivalry between Florida and Georgia, dating back to 1904. It is a spirited competition between two great universities. The Florida-Georgia relationship is truly a classic rivalry in college football.

Off the field, the story is different. Florida and Georgia are united in our commitment to youth and education. This commitment is evident by the university rankings, where you find both schools listed in the top 15 public institutions. We also have two strong and historic 4-H programs with proud traditions and dedicated supporters.

After recently touring our Florida 4-H camps, our VP Scott Angle asked some of us to explore a few other camps to get some ideas for our own program. Naturally, we reached out to our good friends in Georgia to plan a visit.

This month, members of the UF/IFAS and Florida 4-H team were graciously hosted by our colleagues in the Georgia 4-H Program, showing us around two of their 4-H facilities: Camp Fortson and Camp Rock Eagle. Arch Smith (State 4-H Leader), Melanie Biersmith (Associate State 4-H Leader), Matt Hammons (Camp Rock Eagle Center Director) Mary Melson (Camp Fortson Center Director) and Undrey Bostic (Dining and Food Operations Manager) at Camp Rock Eagle spent two days with our team. To Arch, Melanie, Matt, Mary, Undrey, and everyone else who hosted us: Thank you for your time, patience, and hospitality. It was the best possible experience and much more than we could have asked.

The visit was eye-opening for our Florida delegation, to say the least. Georgia has one of the premier 4-H programs in the country, bolstered by a proud legacy, strong legislative support and a tireless network of volunteers and donors. Their dedication to positive youth development throughout the State of Georgia is showcased through their camps. Like our own supporters and volunteers, they are fervent in their passion for providing experience and mentorship for their youth, but their ability to do so is greatly enhanced by their facilities. There are few youth-related camps anywhere in the country that can rival what is offered at Rock Eagle, and it was an honor to spend just a few days at the cabins on their 110-acre lake.

 

Our Florida team came away impressed and excited. It is inspiring to see what 4-H camps can be, and we have a renewed mission to invest more time, finances, energy and resources into the kind of facilities and programs that Florida 4-H’ers deserve. Our friends in Georgia selflessly showcased a blueprint for 4-H exceptionalism that we one day hope to emulate.

So, while we love and are proud of our camps, we always want to make the best better and look at all that our 4-H Centers can be around the state. Our foundation is energized and our IFAS leadership is creating a shared vision we will soon be able to share.

Here’s how you can help Florida 4-H camping:

  • Reach out to your local office to learn about your program
  • Visit one of our camps with your organization for a retreat
  • Follow Florida 4-H on Facebook or Instagram to help share the value of camping with your friends and audiences.
  • Consider supporting one of our camp centers financially, through your time, or donating the supplies we need to get to work. For more information, please contact Caylin Hilton, associate director of development for Florida 4-H at 352.392.5432 or grow4h@ifas.ufl.edu.

4-H is the youth development program of the land-grant university system and Cooperative Extension System. The program provides hands-on educational programs and experiences for youth ages 5 to 18 with the objective of developing them as individuals, and as responsible and productive citizens. In Florida, 4-H is administered by University of Florida/IFAS Extension and Florida A&M University, and serves approximately 200,000 youth annually. Learn more at florida4h.org.