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

Adult Programming

Adult programs at Holiday Lake grew with Bryan Branch (current Center Director, then Program Director) and Lance Johnson’s (past Program Director at the NOVA 4-H Center) desire to provide adults the opportunities to continue their education through a variety of hands-on, cultural, and service-oriented programs.  In the fall of 2000 the first Banjo Making Workshop was used as a pilot program.  Since then, adult programs at the 4-H Center have expanded tremendously, with several programs that happen annually.

Sixteen years later and we still have a Banjo workshop; it is now a Banjo & Mandolin Building Workshop. It’s led by Don Kawalek, a Master Craftsman, luthier and teacher. Every year on Don’s spring break from school he comes to the center to lead a workshop. They make some beautiful instruments!

Some of our workshops have led to lifelong hobbies, like our Decoy Carving Workshop. This workshop started as just an interest of Bryan’s and has evolved into a workshop we offer twice a year.  Beware; this workshop will get you hooked! Many of our carvers have returned workshop after workshop, and continue to learn not only from the instructor but each other. Ed Morrison is our instructor and he has been carving since 1982! The trend towards decoy carving has headed towards power carving but Ed keeps it traditional, using knives, spoke shaves and rasps. The results are amazing!

This year I am excited to be bringing back a workshop that hasn’t happened at the center since 2005, our Weaving Workshop! Patricia Morton relocated to Appomattox and we were lucky to snag her up to lead this workshop. The workshop is designed to teach the basics of weaving; participants will start with a completely naked loom and leave with a beautiful scarf. Patricia loves to spread her passion for weaving and this workshop will be a great addition to our workshop line up!

I am always looking for new ideas and instructors for workshops. So if you are reading this and think, “_____ would make a great workshop” or “I’ve always wanted to learn to _____” or “I would love to lead a _____ workshop,” you should let me know!  Send me more information about what you would like to see or do at the 4-H Center and I will try my best to make it happen, even better if you can introduce me to someone who can lead it.

This post would be WAY too long and you would eventually stop reading if I talked about every Adult Program we offer, for a complete list check out our website!

~Heather Benninghove
Program Director

Progression.jpgProgression of Decoy Carving

Are packing lists just a suggestion?

Having gone to camp for many years, I have packed quite a few bags. Along with packing my own bags, I have seen thousands of camper’s suitcases.  The items and the sheer amount of stuff kids bring to camp amazes me.  Camp only lasts a week, Monday morning to Friday morning.  Some counties bring an entire school bus full of luggage that is packed like sausage in a casing and others bring a small moving truck. Whatever the mode of transportation they use, there is still more luggage than you would think.

Each county has their own way of sorting, packing, and organizing luggage. The best I’ve seen in my many years is using colored duct tape to designate which group they are in, which makes it easier for campers to find their luggage after arriving at camp. But with all that luggage, I guess you are wondering what they actually pack.

A standard camp packing list should include, but not limited to, the following:

  • Bed linens (sleeping bag or twin sheets, pillow, blanket)
  • Toiletries (shampoo, body soap, toothbrush, toothpaste, washcloth, etc.)
  • Bath towel
  • Shower shoes (*sometimes this one isn’t on the list*)
  • 5 sets of clothes (*maybe a couple extra shirts*)
  • Underwear (5 pair)
  • Pajamas
  • Tennis shoes (for classes)
  • Socks (5 pair)
  • Swimsuit/trunks
  • Beach towel
  • Jacket (for inclement weather)
  • Extras (any attire for the camp theme)

I honestly believe some kids pack for camp like they are never going home.  I have seen large trunks, 4 piece luggage sets, tote boxes, and a duffle bag that could fit at least 3 campers inside.

What kids actually pack for camp:

  • The usual bed linens and toiletries
  • Bath towel
  • Clothes (a random assortment of clothes)
  • Underwear (2 pair)
  • Tennis shoes
  • Socks (1 pair)
  • Swimsuit/trunks
  • Beach towel
  • Teddy bear (sometimes)
  • A fan
  • A book
  • Flashlight
  • Jewelry
  • Makeup
  • Hats
  • Cologne/perfume
  • Hair styling tools
  • Snacks
  • Fancy clothes for the occasional dance

Kids have packed crazier things:

  • A backpack full of Spaghetti-O’s with the camp menu attached
  • A case of Coca Cola (my best friend and I when we were campers)
  • A full-sized knight for cabin decoration
  • A broom to sleep with
  • Red Bull and Mt. Dew
  • A pillow that was not a pillow, but a “hat”. Don’t ask.


I’m sure there are far crazier things that have made it to camp in the suitcase of a 10 year old. You may be asking yourself, “why do they pack all that stuff?”, but the real question is “does everything make it home?” The answer is NEVER!  There is the occasional camper who loses bits and pieces of their stuff throughout the week.  We do our best to make sure all the lost items find their way home, but sometimes a kid just doesn’t want to claim it.  One year a kid went home with nothing.  I guess he or she lost their stuff or just didn’t want to fool with it at the end of the week.  So in case your child is one of those who forgets something or loses something during camp, we have an extensive collection of lost and found items just waiting for the day they will be needed again.





Kelsey Brown ~ Freak Show

Program Assistant

Highfiving 25ft. in the Air


During summer staff interviews recently, many of our candidates told us how much this place [Holiday Lake] has helped mold them into the person they are.  I reflect on my experience at camp and I can honestly say I have no idea where my life would be without camp and Holiday Lake.  I don’t believe I was ever a shy kid and always made friends easily, but camp is where I made lifelong friends, met people who would mentor me and celebrate life with me and even one who introduced me to my husband.  I attended a few different camps as a child but 4-H Camp was always my favorite. It was a place I could be silly, sing songs, and be a leader.

I applied for summer staff because Jennifer Bowen (my awesome 4-H Agent) said they still needed people so I took a chance and called.  Bryan, the recently promoted Center Director, answered my call. Cut to a few summers previous to that when Bryan was Program Director I helped with Cloverbud. Long story short, I had a sprained wrist, couldn’t go canoeing so I skipped that class and helped with another. Bryan thought I was being a slacker and was mixed up with some trouble makers who were also there to help. All a misunderstanding, but when Bryan answered the phone I was sure I wouldn’t get the job. Luckily he doesn’t hold grudges and Jennifer was in his office at the time.  He told me where to get an application and I got set up with an interview. Phew! I showed up for my interview, application in hand, and nervous. I can’t even remember the interview  with Nate honestly because I was so nervous. On the way home I got the call from Nate that I was hired and to be back at the center by 5 to leave for Statewide Staff Training in the morning.  Talk about a last minute hire.

Heading into the summer I had planned to be an interior design major, until I discovered that you could do camp as a career! I heard about Radford’s rec program and I was sold.  I even told Nate that one day I wanted his job.  After four years on summer staff I was so grateful to receive a fulltime position at the center, now I am living the dream!

So you see, without this place, I have no idea where I would be. Camp has taught me so many things about myself as a leader, and given me opportunities to do things I never would have ever gotten a chance to do.  Where else can you shoot a bow and arrow, high-five someone 25 ft. in the air on the climbing wall, and then perform in the talent show, all in one day?  Where else can you meet tons of new friends, gain independence and leadership skills, all while having fun and being who you were really meant to be?

Heather Benninghove ~ Salmon
Program Director


Dirty Knees: Play hard, learn harder

20151014_110054.jpgAs Program Director I don’t get to play with the kids as much as I did while I was on summer staff. Every once in a while I am given the opportunity to teach one of our Natural Resource Education Classes. Wildlife Ecology is one of the favorites, chosen often, by school groups.  We like to use hands on activities, so they learn while they play, most often having so much fun they don’t realize they are learning. Camouflage, is one of these activities.  The best way I know how to describe the activity is, it’s like a Predator/Prey version of Hide and Go Seek. Where there is an Eagle, in its nest, searching for prey. The “prey” are hiding in a wooded area, trying to blend in. Without leaving the “nest”, the eagle, will call out any “prey” they see. The kids, no matter what the age, will play this all day if you let them.

The kids really get into this activity! The amount of dirt on their knees when they are finished is a true test of the level of fun had. These kids played hard and learned hard!

Heather Benninghove ~Salmon
Program Director

Fluvanna & Greene Counties–Day 3 of classes!

Ms. Alstat enjoys being the agent for Greene County because she gets to try a lot of new things.  She has been an agent for 14 years. She was the only one who applied for the job and they liked her  enough to hire her. She said its not easy being an agent because there is lots of paperwork and she works extra long hours, but on a scale of 1-10  she thinks being an agent is a 10! We think Ms. Alstat is a 10! Fluvanna Her favorite part of camp is campfire. Ms. Alstat never came to camp as a camper, but her daughter did. Interview by: Greene County campers

Ms. Mayo enjoys being the agent for Fluvanna County. She got the job when Adult Leader, John Thompson, transferred to a new job. She has been and agent for 8 years. Her favorite thing at camp is campfire. She came as a camper with Albemarle County. She loves to read, but couldn’t decide on a favorite book. Her favorite superhero is her mom! We think Ms. Mayo is an awesome Extension Agent. Interview by: Fluvanna County campers

During 1st block we interviewed Meghan Tanner, on of our Adult Leaders hear at camp. She said she loves being an Adult Leader. She didn’t come to camp as a camper like we did. Meghan said that her main duty at camp is to do whatever Ms. Mayo and Ms. Alstat want her to do. She has been and Adult Leader for 4 years. Meghan loves anything Arts and Crafts. Finally, her favorite superhero is Ironman!

Interview by: Multimedia class

Happy Birthday Salmon!

That’s what’s happening around camp today.