Saying Farewell to Camp Ocala
The three camping counties of Pasco, Polk, and Pinellas have spent their last glorious week at Camp Ocala. Camp Ocala has a special place in many of our hearts. If you have not been there, you must know that Camp Ocala is set on a Florida “hill” which rises as the week goes on. At least it does for the adults who travel back and forth, and up and down between the main buildings and the cabins. Bordering the camp is Sellers Lake, part of a chain of lakes in the area. One of the best things about the camp is that it is located in the middle of the Ocala National Forest. Wildlife is seen on a daily basis in varying frequencies. A personal favorite is the chuck will’s widow, which is not seen, but heard endlessly during the overnight camping across the lake. Most years we have seen sand hill cranes, Florida black bears, foxes, rabbits, alligators, many types of birds, snakes and tortoises. This year, a panther was sighted early one morning. And so the legends of Camp Ocala continue.
In 4-H we often talk of the Essential Elements of 4-H. These elements can be explained with the four concepts of Belonging, Mastery, Independence, and Generosity. All four should be part of everything we do in 4-H programs. Camp is the perfect delivery method for these Essential Elements.
Belonging is achieved by having everyone feel that they are a part of the group, that they are safe, and they understand camp traditions. One tradition at 4-H camp is the voting of the 4-H Spirits who play an important part in the candle lighting ceremony the last night at camp. The Spirits are voted for by the adults and counselors who consider which of the counselors and campers exemplify the ideals of the Four H’s. This year’s Spirits are:
Head: David S. Phoebe M.
Heart: Abby L. Kata M.
Hands: Nicolas G. Aaron W.
Health: Jessie S. Victor K.
Spirit: Samantha R. Sarah M.
Mastery is achieved through the camp classes. At Camp Ocala, these classes are taught by 4-H Agents, camp staff, volunteers, and counselors. Campers can learn to make an all natural face scrub, build a shelter from forest resources, or build and control an underwater robotic vehicle. One of the most popular classes has been Beginning and Advanced Rocketry. Campers design, build, and then launch their rockets the last evening at camp. This class is taught by Ben Wrobel, who started in rocketry as a camper, assisted in rocketry as a counselor, taught the class as camp staff, and now continues as an adult volunteer with his own counselor assistants. In a camp evaluation, one camper wrote, “I never thought I could build a rocket!”
Independence is achieved through the experience of camp itself. At camp one has to motivate oneself, decide what clothes to wear, decide what to take into the shower room, and how to make new friends. Another popular class is Overnight Camping Across the Lake Adventure, better known as O.C.A.L.A. In this class, 4-H’ers learn the skills they need to kayak across the lake and spend the night tent camping in the forest. Some of the members of the class have never been camping and need to decide whether they will actually make the trip across the lake and spend the night without the benefit of indoor plumbing. Needless to say, this class forces some independent decision making. The 4-H camper is allowed to make these decisions and stretch their abilities in a safe environment. Overcoming fears and trying something new builds independence and all the while, new friends are there offering encouragement.
Camping friends are the best kind and often friends made at camp become lifelong friends.
Generosity is achieved in subtle ways at camp. It could be something simple such as sharing shampoo or an extra t-shirt. It can be seen in the generosity of time the volunteers donate to keep camp running smoothly. The teen camp counselors are generous with their time, energy, and expression of support towards the campers. Campers write thank you notes to donors who contribute to the scholarship fund, so the children know of others’ generosity.
Yes, Camp Ocala is closing, but a new camp will be built in a few years’ time. Next summer, Pasco, Polk, and Pinellas will camp at Camp Cloverleaf in Highlands County. Camp Cloverleaf has its own charm and that charm will be discovered soon enough by these same campers. No matter where it is located or what it is called, 4-H camp is still the best place to be.
The Camp Ocala Celebration is August 15. Please see link for information: