Fishing Camp 2017


Hey, it’s Maya the intern again, here to talk about fishing camp. It was my first day of work when I first heard about fishing camp in all of its glory. It was Levi’s first time organizing fishing camp, too, so we both were not quite sure what to expect. We started going into full speed planning mode at La Parota’s with Greg, Terry, Linda, and Tamara to learn about all the logistics and details that go into a successful camp.

I was amazed at all the coordination that goes on behind the scenes. First there is the money: Where are our sources of funding? At what point do teens need to pay? Then, there are the activities: Is there too much fishing or not enough? Do we have enough skilled volunteers to go over all the lessons? Is there enough downtime and how structured should it be? How should we group them? Which cabins do they stay in? All of these questions we answered in the meeting and more.

Over the next month, I watched as Levi executed all of the plans, delegating some of the more fun jobs to me. I got to make the gift bags, the nametags, and create fish jeopardy. I also learned how many groups, like the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (DGIF), donate so much to the cause. I’ve never seen so much tackle or fishing line in my life!

Before I knew it, the kids were arriving. Fishing camp was here. All the planning (and stressing) put to the test. We started off with a fun casting challenge. We paired up the more experienced fishermen and women with the new ones to help teach using land fish. Once everyone was here, we had the fishing rodeo, which helped us form groups with a mixed range of skills (and attitudes). They had a few classes, some dinner, and were put to bed by the teens.

The next day was fishing, fishing, fishing, fishing, and finding natural bait. We had 5 rotations, each with teens and adults to help teach and shuffle them from place to place.  I got to teach natural bait, so I didn’t see the fishing. However, I did see many minnows, salamanders, macro-invertebrates, and more caught by each of the campers. I loved the small class sizes that helped me work with and teach every camper. After dinner, a casting contest, bedtime, breakfast, some thank you notes, and a few more activities, fishing camp had come to a close. All the parents had arrived to see the awards the campers received and take them back. We had done it!

All in all, I think my favorite parts of fishing camp ended up being the planning, hanging out with the teens and campers, and getting a better understanding of how camp works, even if it was just a weekend camp. The teens did such a great job handling the campers and I love the teen leader model 4-H uses. As hard and stressful as it was at some parts, I did love fishing camp and I hope to be back next year.

~Maya, NRE Intern




The Life of an Intern at Holiday Lake

My name is Maya Epelbaum, and I have been an intern for the Natural Resource Education program here at Holiday Lake for a little over a month and it has been quite the journey. I moved into the Pods and quickly learned that without Wifi, cell service, and a town close by, I would live a very different life than I had been in New Jersey.

And I love it. I love being able to read in my hammock overlooking the lake. I love hiking on the trails and exploring the camp. I love how I feel like I have a family here. We eat meals together, hang out in and out of work, and genuinely care about each other.

I also love the work itself. Most days, we are either in school teaching about types of animals (mammals, reptiles, birds, etc.), or at Holiday Lake teaching a much larger variety of classes. For example, my second day here as an intern Kelsey says, “you don’t mind holding snakes do you?” Next thing I knew, I was handling snakes, passing them around to 5th and 6th graders. One of the students asked me, “Were you scared when you first started?” Little did she know that it was, indeed my first day, and yes, I was a little scared. Luckily, I made it through. It wasn’t until the third time I took the turtles and snakes around the classroom that one decided to poop on me!

My favorite part about school groups is seeing how much fun the children can have while also learning so much about nature. Sometimes I get jealous of some of the children we teach because I know our programs make a lasting difference and do not exist everywhere. Mostly I am grateful for the opportunity Holiday Lake has given me to share some of my favorite parts of nature and 4-H with other children.

When we are not working with school groups, its play time in the nature room. Levi and Kelsey give me a ton of freedom to do whatever I want to in order to improve the NRE program and the Nature room (and even write blog posts!). I have been able to write curricula for botany, arachnids, and my personal favorite, an environmental stewardship class. If there is information I would like to see taught, I can create a class about it. I was also really excited that they let me start up the composting program here again and hope to see it continue when I leave.

Between writing and teaching, I go through all the boxes in the nature room. Each box holds a new surprise, whether it be preserved spiders, mammalian skulls, or shiny minerals. Organizing and cleaning can sometimes get tedious, but Kelsey and Levi always help make it fun. Some of the more interesting things I have done since coming here include: 1) designing a turtle enclosure, which included transplanting a tree 2) finding worms to feed our turtles and compost, 3) thawing mice and feeding the snakes them to the snakes, 4) helping a snake shed, and 5) tripping while holding a paint can. And while sometimes I can’t believe that I’m doing these things as part of my job, I can’t imagine I’d rather be anywhere else.

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75th Anniversary and Girls’ Bathhouse Ribbon Cutting

On March 30, 2017, the Holiday Lake 4-H Educational Center celebrated its 75th Anniversary along with the opening of the new Girls’ Bathhouse. The celebration was open to all, especially those who had camped at the Center or participated in any of its programs. It was a momentous occasion and everyone enjoyed their time together.

Preston Willson, CEO and President of the 4-H Center, called the celebration to order and thanked many of the donors who made the construction of the bathhouse possible. The bathhouse fundraising campaign began last spring with asking for donations from our biggest supporters.  100% of the 4-H Center employees donated to the cause, and during the summer, the 17 counties and 2 cities the 4-H Center serves, participated in a “Pennies for Potties” campaign. A thunderous applause rang out when he spoke the words, “It is paid for.” He then turned the mic over to Shirley Walton who came to her first year of camp as an Extension Agent in the 1970s. She talked about the memories the girls had of the original bathhouse and how the 4-H Center affects all the senses, from the sound of tree frogs to the fresh smell of nature. Many people murmured in agreement, as they recalled their own memories of the 4-H Center.  After reminding people how important the 4-H Center is and what it means to the hundreds of thousands of people who have been here over the past 75 years, she introduced the Ribbon Cutters. Many generations were represented during the cutting of the ribbon, from a camper in the 1940s, to a camper who will be coming to her first week of Junior Camp this year and a 3-year-old who represents the future of 4-H Camping.

Following the ribbon cutting, people were invited to walk through the new bathhouse to see the major changes and improvements that had been made. After everyone toured the bathhouse, lunch was served in the Dining Hall. On display was a slide show of pictures from different times at the 4-H Center. The 4-H Center has gone through some major renovations in 75 years, but the purpose still remains the same; we are here for the kids. During lunch, a representative from Delegate Matt Farris’s office presented the 4-H Center with a Resolution for its 75th Anniversary, a beautiful cake was served, which was made especially for the occasion and people from each decade of camping shared a memory or two of their time at camp.

The day was a success! Generations of campers and participants were brought together by their love of camp. 75 years from now, who knows what buildings will be renovated, what new memories will be made, and who will be affected by Holiday Lake 4-H camp.


Kelsey Brown

-Program Assistant

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During this time of year we always think of what we are thankful for. Here at the 4-H Center we are thankful for many things.

We are thankful for:

  • The dedicated staff who work so hard to make the 4-H Center what it is
  • The kitchen workers who cook such wonderful food for us
  • The many, many people who have donated to help us improve the 4-H Center
  • Cabins and bunkhouses filled with campers
  • Summer Staff who make camp memorable every year
  • The schools who come to participate in the Natural Resource Education program
  • The groups who use the 4-H Center for their programs
  • The people who volunteer countless hours at the 4-H Center

People make the 4-H Center what it is. We are thankful 4-H is such a big part of the lives of the people in the surrounding communities. Without these hard-working, dedicated people, the 4-H Center could not survive. So, this Thanksgiving we are thankful for whomever you are that is reading this blog.


~Kelsey Brown

~Program Assistant


New Natural Resource Education Coordinator!

The Holiday Lake 4-H Educational Center is happy to introduce the new Natural Resource Educational Coordinator, Levi Callahan!11110984_604029848414_18420969611311561_n

Levi comes to us fresh off his 5th year as a Summer Staff member. He is originally from Griffin, Georgia, and more recently Chesterfield, Virginia. He graduated from Virginia Tech in 2015 with a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Natural Resource Conservation with a focus in Conservation and Recreation Management. Levi has been busy since his first day of work in August. He first set his sights on reorganizing and sprucing up the Nature Room. Some displays were rearranged, a new “bone yard” display was created, the Forest Products display is hanging in the Dining Hall, and some new animals have been added to the Nature Room. After getting the Nature Room to his liking he has worked diligently on getting school groups booked and volunteers for each day. So far 34 program days have been booked for this semester, and 2 of the groups coming are overnight groups. By hiring Levi, the 4-H Center has added a knowledgable and valuable person to the family. He had never been to 4-H Camp until his first year on Summer Staff in 2012 and now he is a full-time employee. Working for 4-H isn’t for everybody, but sometimes a person gets hooked on 4-H and never wants to leave. The 4-H Center is proud to have Levi as a part of the family.

~Kelsey Brown

~Program Assistant




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