Camp 2016 has ended, every camper has started school, and the summer staff has moved back to college. It seems like only a few weeks ago summer had just started. This year went by in the blink of an eye, and the 4-H Center is filled with the sounds of birds, the wind, and sometimes just quietness.

One thing the 4-H Center is full of is memories. No matter where you walk there is a memory belonging to someone. If you stand on the front porch of the Dining Hall looking out towards the flag poles, there aren’t any kids, but you can still see the horseshoe of campers waiting for flags to begin. There aren’t 200 campers sitting in the amphitheater every morning waiting for the day to start, but if you sit on one of the benches and close your eyes, you can almost hear Boom Box start to sing a song and all the campers join in. There’s no hammering coming from the Leathercraft room, Oakley isn’t taking kids out on the water, and the water is calm. The pool is locked; no one goes over there now. No one has to clean it every day; no one has to guard 150 campers cooling off from the 90 degree weather. Onyx and Chili would be upset because of the algae that have grown.

Down the path a little ways is the Archery Range. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard, “archery is my favorite class, and “Flick is the best teacher every!” Archery is always a packed class: 16 kids, the maximum, four classes a day, 3 days a week, 8 weeks this summer. But right now, it’s just an empty range with the faint sounds of arrows coming off the bow strings. The Rifle Range is the same. You walk up the steps and there are empty chairs and leaves on the deck. Splenda isn’t there with her eyes and ears on teaching campers how to be safe. It’s an empty range again. All you can hear is the wind and the lawn mower running in the distance. The Ropes Course is hanging out all alone. All the ropes are stored, the helmets put away, and the harnesses are hanging in the shed. If you look up you won’t see Amp or Little Duck instructing campers through the course, but if you think back throughout the summer you might watch a first time camper on the course complete the circuit. You might be able to hear the other campers cheering as another goes down the zip line or you might hear nothing at all because they are just memories now.

The Rec Field is vacant of children playing, no soccer balls, or softballs, Forte isn’t in the field teaching campers to work together or how to problem solve. She’s probably at school teaching her friends how to problem solve. The Camp Store is closed, the lights are off, and there are sweatshirts and t-shirts left inside. Ratchet and Wobble aren’t acting silly and making campers laugh.  There aren’t campers in the clinic getting a band-aid. If you look down the row of cabins it’s like a ghost town. Jiffy isn’t teaching kids about reptiles and amphibians, she’s teaching kids about English. The turtles are still there, but they miss her terribly. Kirby has gone home. Her smiling face isn’t checking the weather every 5 minutes. You can’t walk into the office and find her helping Salmon with the day-to-day happenings of camp.

Each week campers come, they get to take 4 classes, play games, swim in the pool, and go to campfire, and there is a person who turns all these memories into a slide show, Scout. The Multimedia class takes the pictures and immortalizes camp memories into a slideshow. With Scout’s help the campers create a hard copy of hundreds of memories from camp each week. Over the years memories fade, but these slide shows will last forever. The Holiday Lake 4-H Center is celebrating its 75th year of camping this year. For the past 75 years campers have been making memories at Holiday Lake. They remember their first campfire, their first time sleeping in a cabin, their first time meeting their future best friend. Everywhere you walk at camp you can imagine how many memories have been made in that spot or who made a memory in that spot. Maybe your grandmother met your grandfather here or your dad met your mom, or maybe you just made a new memory of your own. One thing is for sure the 4-H Center maybe empty of campers, but it is full of their memories.

~Freak Show

-Program Assistant



Back row: Boom Box, Chili, Ratchet, Scout, Oakley, Jiffy, Splenda, Kirby, Amp, Little Duck, Wobble, Flick. Front row: Onyx, Forte. (Summer Staff 2016)

Quotable Campers

“I bet unicorns taste like the word puppet”

Camper 1- “What’s a Chupacabra?”

Camper 2- “I’m pretty sure it’s a butterfly.”

In climbing wall class- “Your placement has to be right and your glutes have to be tight.”

“This is America. I know my Constitution of Independence.”

“It’s so cold in here! It gave me the shudders!”

“My favorite color is 612.”

“I like boy chasing, I treat it like a sport.”

“Have you ever burped and farted at the same time, I did!”

“I would marry a guy that could shoot milk out of his eyes.”

“I don’t need to shower! I went swimming today.”

“Sometimes you have to throw on a Hawaiian shirt and say you are here to party.”



Preston Willson

Preston Randolph Willson has worked at the Holiday Lake 4-H Educational Center for 21 years. His official job title is President  & CEO, with an Emphasis on Development. Preston is originally from Amelia County, Virginia. He will be married for 55 years in December.  I recently took a few minutes of Preston’s time to ask him a few get-to-know-you questions.

His favorite food is chicken, but if he could choose one other food to eat for the rest of his life it would be eggs. He does not believe in Bigfoot and he prefers pie over cake. I asked him if there was a movie made about his life who would play the lead role, and he said Gregory Peck. I agreed. His favorite animal at the zoo is the eagle, and he doesn’t collect anything. He owns 7 pairs of shoes, but he can’t whistle. I also asked Preston if he met the Queen of England if he thought they’d get along and he said, “sure.” I also asked him if he was an international spy, and of course, he said no, but then I asked him if he’d actually tell me if he really was an international spy and he said no. So we will never really know if he is an international spy. When Preston was a kid he wanted to be a singer. He still sings at church, but I couldn’t get him to sing for me. He is related to 2 famous people. One of his famous relatives was the Director of Music at Duke Chapel, and the other was an actor by the name of Joseph Cotton. I looked up Joseph Cotton online and he was in the movie Citizen Kane. Preston doesn’t have any weird talents, but he does have a double-jointed thumb. He also has a nickname, Pete, but very few people use it.

Preston Willson, once a man of mystery has fewer mysteries to him now.


Preston working on the Pods in March 2012



Kelsey Brown

~Freak Show

~~Program Assistant


Onyx and Wobble

The following interviews are from a first year staff member and a fourth year staff member.

  1. Camp Name- ONYX13729077_1252183071460542_5078078694374361842_n
  2. Job at camp-Advanced Swimming Instructor
  3. How many years on summer staff-1st year on Summer Staff
  4. From- Goochland, VA
  5. Where do you go to school- James Madison University
  6. What is your major- Interdisciplinary Liberal Studies with a minor in Elementary Education: Concentration in Math & Science and an Algebra I Endorsement
  7. What do you want to be when you grow up- Elementary School teacher
  8. Favorite camp song- Humpty Dump
  9. Favorite activity/program at camp- Staff Hunt/Bring Me
  10. Favorite meal at camp- Beeferoni
  11. Did you have a favorite staff member as a camper or teen- I was never a teen or camper. I’m new to 4-H!
  12. If you could teach any other class what would it be? Canoeing! I love to canoe and some kids are fearful of boats and water. I like to see them conquer their fears.
  13. Who on the current summer staff inspires you most? Scout, she always aspires to do a better job than she already does and has everyone’s best interest at heart.
  14. What has been the best thing that has happened to you so far this summer? Numerous interactions with campers that remind me of the reason I chose to be on staff and an elementary teacher.
  15. What is your goal as a summer staff member? To better myself as a youth development professional, but more importantly to better each child I interact with.
  16. What is one piece of advice you’d give next year’s summer staff- Remember the reason you are here because you were hired for skills you displayed. Keep displaying them in their best form.


  1. Camp Name- WOBBLE
  2. 11079703_959370007415466_5077116113494234556_nJob at camp- EMT
  3. How many year on camp staff- 4
  4. Where are you from- Newport News, VA
  5. Where do you go to school- Lynchburg College
  6. What was your major- Business Administration & International Relations
  7. What do you want to be when you grow up- Employed
  8. Favorite camp song- Linger
  9. Favorite activity-program at camp- Gau-gau
  10. Favorite meal at camp- Chicken tenders, Mac & Cheese
  11. Did you have a favorite staff member as a camper or teen- Never camp as a camper or teen
  12. If you could teach any other class what would it be- Low Ropes, I enjoy seeing groups work together to identify and solve a common problem. (and the games are fun!)
  13. Who on the current summer staff inspires you most- Scout, strong work ethic and able to relate and connect with campers and really get to know them.
  14. What has been the best thing that has happen to you so far this summer- Having campers from previous years come back and say that they missed me and am glad I am back.
  15. What’s your goal as a summer staff member- Always act in the best interest of campers.
  16. What is one piece of advice you’d give next year’s summer staff- Always keep smiling! There’s always a reason to smile.



~Freak Show

-Kelsey Brown, Program Assistant

Monday Morning

We’ve made it through 1 week of Family Camp and 2 weeks of Junior Camp. The new summer staff got their first experience with a week of Junior Camp, and the returning summer staff stepped into the routine like they never left.

Every Monday morning the summer staff meet in the Dining Hall for breakfast to talk about the week to come. They talk about things that happened the weeks before and things that are going to happen the coming week. After they finish breakfast they make sure camp is ready for the kids. Of course, the house keeper has made camp beautiful already, but the summer staff go around making sure they amphitheater is set up for the opening assembly, the Spirit Stick and paint bag are ready to go, the pavilion is set up for health checks, and a multitude of other things. After the camp readiness time, the waiting period starts, the waiting period for the luggage bus. The all important luggage bus is pretty much the beginning of camp. When it arrives it means that the campers are usually not far behind. The summer staff start unloading the luggage. They unload it in traffic circle because it is a very visible and central location for the kids to find their luggage when they arrive. After the luggage is unloaded the summer staff wait for the buses loaded full of eager campers to arrive.

The first person to see the bus gets on the radio and tells everyone else they campers are here! When the buses get to the traffic circle, the campers exit and are directed to the amphitheater. They patiently, yeah right, wait for instructions about what to do. When everyone has made their way to the amphitheater and all the luggage has been unloaded there is an announcement. “If you here me clap twice!” *CLAP CLAP* Everyone responds accordingly and gets quiet. The summer staff or the Extension Agent sends groups of campers to the traffic circle to get their luggage, put it on the porch of their lodging, and return to the amphitheater.

Once all luggage has been claimed, all campers have returned, and everyone has been seated the opening assembly can begin! The summer staff are all waiting in the prop room to introduce themselves. The music starts and one by one they step out, say their name and class; applause, applause! The campers are so excited to meet the new summer staff and see their favorite returning summer staff. The applause dies down and summer staff go over the rules. Once the rules are done they go over a few more things with the campers while the teen leaders have a meeting with the Program Director and Staff Coordinator. After everything is said and done it is time to line up for lunch. They separate into their groups and head over to the Dining Hall.

That is Monday morning.


Flick & Ratchet 2016

~Freak Show

~~Program Assistant


Preparing for Camp

In January 2016 we had staff interviews.  We narrowed down the field and hired 7 new staff members, 6 returning staff members, and 1 intern for summer 2016. Each staff member from the previous year can decide whether or not they want to return. Some of them graduate college and move on to bigger and better things. Some of them return for a second, third, fourth, or fifth summer. Some just decide not to return. Not all people are cut out for camp. If we are lucky we get a lot of returnees to guide new staff members through the summer to create more returnees for summers to come.

After they have received the news they’ve been hired, most of them still have a couple of months left of school to focus on, but that doesn’t stop the excitement. They get to know each other by becoming friends on Facebook and talking and planning things for the summer, while Salmon and the other Program Directors are busy planning the Statewide Staff Training. All Summer Staff have to go through a week-long training session at one of the six 4-H Centers each year. This year it’s at the Airfield 4-H Center. They get to meet the staff from every center and make new friends and learn about their jobs, homesickness, childhood development, roles and expectations, anything and everything that has to do with camp. This is the place that prepares them to be a staff member. It is a whole week dedicated to making sure they know what they are doing. When they get back they have another week of training here at Holiday Lake. We go through our specific training with them.

Training, training, training, lots and lots of training, it may sound like too much, but you can never have too much training when kids are involved. We train these Staff members for 2 weeks. Each staff goes to the statewide training and then has their own center specific training. It’s not all boring. We do our best to make it fun so they retain the information. During the center specific training our staff learns all our specific policies and procedures and the traditions of Holiday Lake, like our Thursday night campfire ceremony for example. It is a rite of passage every staff member goes through. They hear the story and experience the feeling of being in such a historic place. I don’t know if the campers have that same feeling when they hear the story, but it certainly means a lot to us that work and live here.

After 2 long weeks of preparations, staff bonding, and of course, training, we finally have our first camp, Family Camp! This is a camp for, you guessed it, families. Mom, Dad, Grandma, Grandpa, Sister, Brother, Cousins, Aunts, Uncles, you name it. They do camp just like everyone else. They take classes together and on their own. It’s just like regular camp. We’ve watched these families grow up and felt like we’ve become part of their families. We say goodbye to Family Camp and hello to county camps. There are 8 weeks of  county camp this summer, and we are excited for every one of them. We know our staff is eager and enthusiastic to get started.

13 days ‘til the first day of camp.


~Freak Show

~Kelsey Brown

Program Assistant

All About Cora

  1. Name- Cora
  2. Years on staff-  6
  3. Job- House Keeper
  4. Where are you from?- Appomattox
  5. On a scale of 1 to 10 how weird are you? 5
  6. What would you do if you just inherited a pizzeria from your uncle? Run it or sell it. Probably sell it.
  7. What do you think about when you’re alone in the car? About my kids. Old relationships. Music.
  8. Pick two celebrities to be your parents. Beyonce & Morgan Freeman.
  9. What do you think of garden gnomes? I like them.
  10. What do you think cats dream about? When they are gonna take their next nap. When they are gonna get fed.
  11. If you could trade lives with someone for one day who would it be? Walt Disney
  12. What is the name of your very first best friend? Doretha
  13. Who is your favorite super hero? Superman
  14. Can you whistle? No
  15. Are you or have you ever been a mad scientist? No
  16. If you won a million dollars would you share any of it with anybody? Yes, family members
  17. Do you have any pets? A dog
  18. Can you do a cart-wheel? No
  19. What’s your favorite fruit? Watermelon
  20. Have you ever been out of the country? Yes, Canada

Positive Impact

There are a lot of different reasons people apply to be on camp staff. Some people want something to put on their resume, some just need something to do for the summer, and there are some people who just love camp. I am one of those people who just love camp. I didn’t apply to camp staff knowing I would someday inspire someone to be on camp staff. It never crossed my mind while I was filling out my application that I would be someone’s favorite staff member or be a person that a camper could look up to or want to be like. Over the years I spent on summer staff I realized that I was that kind of person, but I never knew how many campers I reached or impacted. Roughly 2,000 campers come to camp every summer, so for me since 2005 I have seen 22,000 campers, give or take a few. If I can make a positive impact on any of those kids then I am doing my job. Who knows what the positive impact from a summer staff can do for a camper’s life, what direction it can send that camper in. Maybe one day that camper will be president, a famous singer, an author, a soldier, an actor, or a doctor.

But here’s the actual point of my blog today. A few weeks ago a young lady sent me the following message on Facebook.

“Hi! You probably don’t remember me but I was a camper one year that you were on camp staff. You were my favorite staff member and you seemed to have always led my favorite songs. Also my friends used to tell me I looked like you but I think it was just the blonde braids. But anyway I just wanted to say thanks for being awesome that week of camp. I was on camp staff last year and I got a whole new perspective on 4H camp! I still love it none the less. Just thought you’d be excited to know you inspired someone else to be a staff member because of the impact you left on me. Thanks again. :)”

Getting this message warmed my heart. She was a camper when I worked at the Southwest Center, and she finally made it to Summer Staff. I’m sorry to say that I don’t remember her, but after meeting 22,000 campers it’s kind of hard to remember everyone. When I was on staff that year I didn’t know the impact I had on her. I’m glad she found me on Facebook and messaged me. I hope she made an impact and inspired some future staff members last summer. I know she did.

If you’re planning on applying for summer staff whatever your reasons are, just know that you will make an impression on some camper’s life. You may not intend to, but it will happen. You may not even know its happening. Every time you sing a certain song, every time you tell a joke, any time you talk to them, you’re impacting their life.

One more thing, I printed the message out and carry it around in my wallet and look at it when I need a little pick-me-up.


Southwest Summer Staff 2006


Holiday Lake Summer Staff 2009

~Kelsey Brown

~Freak Show

Program Assistant


4-H Camp taught me….

Camp is a lot of things to a lot of different people. Recently I posed the question, what has camp taught you, to summer staff (past and present), teen leaders, 4-H Agents, adult leaders and of course campers. The responses spanned a plethora of topics, so I tried to break them down into categories.

LIFE SKILLS- things you learned at camp that will help you in your everyday life. Like making friends and how to do you hair in 7 minutes or less. All useful skills.

  • How to deal and work with other people.
  • Making friends
  • How to do my hair in 7 minutes or less among other things.
  • New skills and how to teach them to others
  • Shaving my legs in the sink
  • Being flexible in all situations
  • Confidence
  • How everyone’s weird qualities/quirks is really what makes them great
  • Future job skills, like knots, life guarding and public speaking.

LEADERSHIP- things you learned that will help you with future leadership opportunities.  4-H camp gives youth the opportunity to lead others; gaining life-long experiences to help them become our future leaders. Who knows, maybe a future mayor, senator, or even president came to camp last summer.

  • How to be a leader and how to put myself out there and gain confidence.
  • Being a team player
  • Being a good role model
  • Speaking up
  • Patience
  • Being enthusiastic, even in tough situations or on rough days.
  • Empathy
  • Communication
  • Idea sharing

PERSONAL GROWTH – these are personal things our campers have over-come, like being self-conscious or realizing that they are just the right amount of cool. It’s a great thing to see campers coming out of their shell and being the person they truly are inside. Where else can you sing a silly song at the top of your lungs while doing a silly dance and not feel like a fool?

  • Less self-conscious
  • Come out of my shell
  • Finding the good in others
  • Staying positive in tight situations
  • Doing things that I love without worrying about the judgement of others.
  • Going on 4 hours of sleep while being enthusiastic all day.
  • That I’m a valuable piece of a big puzzle.
  • That people care about me, just the way I am
  • More caring personality
  • That being myself was cool enough.
  • How to embrace my uniqueness and weirdness.

What would you add to this list? What did camp teach you? I know my list is probably as long as this, what about yours?\

Heather Benninghove
~ Salmon
Program Director

Day in the Life of a Summer Staff

From the outside the summer staff appear to lead a pretty laid back and glamorous life at camp. Behind the scenes is where the real work happens! Every week of camp at Holiday Lake 4-H Center is just a little different, the summer staff adapt to themes, programs, and schedules .  A typical day on summer staff looks like this:

  • Wake up, get dressed, pack everything you need for the morning. Summer staff love their backpacks!
  • Camper wake up and flags
  • Breakfast and staff meeting
  • Grounds Clean Up/Class Prep
  • Morning Assembly – Songs announcements, get campers pumped for the day!
  • Classes- usually 4
  • Lunch Line Up
  • Quick Lunch Meeting
  • Lunch –Staff typically sit with the campers, getting to know more about them.
  • Recreation –Lifeguard, hike, play (half of the staff are on a break)
  • Store (half of the staff are on a break)
  • Breaks = shower time, nap time, relaxing, etc.
  • Dinner Line Up
  • Evening Programs Staff Meeting
  • Dinner – Staff typically sit with the campers, getting to know more about them.
  • Flags – Evening Programs Prep
  • Evening Programs
  • Send Campers to bed
  • Evening program clean up, staff debrief, pool maintenance, competition for showers…or not we can shower on Friday. (we swam today right?…just kidding)
  • Bed at who knows what time! Sometimes it takes some time to decompress from the day and turn off the go-go-go brain.
  • Wake up and repeat!

There is a lot going on a camp at any given moment.  So we use a duty roster to keep everyone on the same page.  A sample duty roster looks like this:

The duty roster is slightly changed every week and every year, to make it more efficient for all the staff. The duty roster helps us stay organized and on top of the day to day tasks and all that needs to be done around camp.

The summer staff work hard and play hard. They don’t do it for the money or the free food and t-shirts, they do it for the campers. And though there are some tough moments, they are well rewarded with the smiles, high-fives, and hugs from campers.

Heather Benninghove ~Salmon
Program Director