Peter and Isaac didn't know each other before arriving at 4-H Memorial Camp, but two days in, each has found his new best friend. There's something about fresh air, campfires, starry nights, and lake water that brings out the best in humanity.
Isaac and Peter run to the beachfront and hold up each other's hand when the buddy whistle is blown, as do dozens of other kids enjoying the water. On the other side of the dock, Dylan and Kenneth, another pair of new friends, are trying to figure out how to row their boat in the direction they want to go. There's lots of laughter. Lifeguards perched in tall chairs keep a careful watch over the campers.
The fish aren't biting, but that doesn't stop campers from dangling their feet and their poles over the bridge waiting for a tug of the fishing line. Up the hill, teams are crafting their cardboard boats for races the next day. Shouts from the sand dodgeball court mean a new champion has been crowned. The craft house is buzzing; some campers are painting shirts, others are molding clay. From the nearby archery grounds, the sounds of arrows whizzing toward their targets cut through the air.
A group of campers has assembled at the ropes wall, challenged to work as a team to climb to the very top. Though the youth wear protective harnesses, the climb still tests the youngsters' courage and determination.
4-H Memorial Camp, which occupies 250 beautiful acres at Allerton Park, served 46,000 user days last year, said camp director Curt Sinclair, with groups on site 190 days a year. The 34 cabins can house 256 campers at one time, said Andy Davis, University of Illinois Extension camping educator.
What don't you see at camp? Cellphones, for one.
Electronic devices aren't allowed at camp except during specific technology training sessions. Counselor Kaleena Davis said phones aren't missed. "There's so much to do, you don't have time for your phone," she said, "and you don't need the distraction."
Technology is allowed at Creation Station, a new facility built to house STEM activities. A grant from Hughes Net in 2017 provided STEM equipment and funded an educator, Lori Gregg, to assist campers. Gregg is no stranger to 4-H Memorial, having served as a counselor from 2002 to 2012.
"I love that campers can try technology out with no time constraints," Gregg said. "You can learn better when you're not learning to perform on a test but for pure exploration."
4-H Memorial offers a popular Counselor in Training program to show teen campers what it's like to be a counselor. The success of the training shows in the record number of counselor applications submitted each year. More than half of the counselors return for more than one year.
Some counselors, such as Devon Rohr and Mary Lanker, have found a summer home at 4-H Memorial Camp. Both came to camp the first time as 8-year-olds. Rohr is now in his 18th consecutive year there, and Lanker has helped at camp for 10 years.
It's a family affair for Lanker; her mother, Sheila, has been the camp nurse for 12 years and was a camper in the 1960s. "It's a great camp to be at," Sheila said. "You feel it the moment you drive in."
The camp hosts groups 190 of the 365 days in a year, including four weeks devoted to 4-H youth and one week dedicated to serving military youth at Camp Corral.
You can support Illinois 4-H camping by providing gifts for many improvement projects, or help sponsor a youth to camp in your local county. We promise, you'll feel young again just thinking about your 4-H camping days.