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Our Illinois 4-H Story

Camping needed now more than ever

The benefits of overnight camping extend far beyond the simple joys that come from eating roasted marshmallows and jumping into a cool lake on a hot day. Overnight camping is a valued part of the 4-H experience for thousands of children each year and teaches valuable lessons, whether campers realize it at the time or not.

4-H Memorial Camp director Curt Sinclair, a 25-year veteran of youth camping, says that overnight camping changes both camper and counselor. "At camp, kids can be themselves," Sinclair says. "For many, it's the first time they have had to be responsible for their own things."

4-H youth development educator Johnna Jennings says that regardless of how campers are treated in their schools or communities, "At camp, they can reframe who they are and who they want to be."

Andy Davis, the University of Illinois Extension 4-H camping educator, says, "Kids explore their own interests at camp, not those of their parents. They can try a new activity and decide it's awesome, or it's not something they want to do again."

Campers gain an appreciation and respect for natural resources when they unplug from technology and spend time fishing, boating, swimming, and hiking, Sinclair says. Research from University of Illinois natural resources researcher Ming Kuo illustrates the need for increasing time outdoors. Her research has proven that exposure to green landscapes slows the heart rate and shifts our physiological responses from "fight-or-flight to tend-and-befriend mode." People with more access to nature show better psychological functioning and better physical health, Kuo says.

The popular high ropes and challenge courses at 4-H Memorial Camp teach young people to work cooperatively to achieve a common goal. Even serving as a "table trotter" teaches youth to be responsible and encourages them to be helpful serving others.

As good as camping is for the youth who attend, "counselors get the most from the camping experience," Sinclair says, because they're at camp longer, up to five weeks at 4-H Memorial Camp. "Their counselor experience happens exactly as they're becoming independent and making career and social decisions in their lives."

Characteristics specific to 4-H camping programs enhance the experience even beyond the typical.

"Teen counselors are coming from our own communities and our own 4-H programs," Jennings says, "so they're more invested in being the best role models possible."

Professionals trained in youth development oversee every aspect of 4-H camping, ensuring not only a safe and positive environment for youth, but educational activities with specific learning objectives.

"People trust 4-H," Davis says. "Parents know it's safe to send their kids to us."

4-H Memorial Camp is accredited with the American Camping Association. Only one-quarter of camps across the country earn that accreditation.

"4-H camping often opens the door to other experiences for new families who learn that camping is just one component of something much larger," Jennings says.

4-H Memorial Camp registration is open. CLICK HERE to register.

Why 4-H camp over other camps?

  • Gain independence being away from home while in a safe environment.
  • Make lifelong friendships.
  • Learn to live and play cooperatively with people who are different from them.
  • Gain outdoor skills and unplug from technology.
  • Practice environmental stewardship.
  • Work as a team for a common goal.
  • Feel welcomed as a member of a group or team.
  • Explore activities not available in their community.
  • Step outside of a comfort zone to try new things.
  • Practice generous living by helping others during meals, cleanup, and team building.
  • Meet new people and start lifelong friendships.
  • Explore career opportunities related to natural resource stewardship, outdoor living, and teaching.
  • Donor support reduces camper costs.


Judy Mae Bingman, University of Illinois Extension Marketing and Communications Manager

Judy uses powerful words and photography to tell the Extension story. She is a skilled communication strategist and storyteller with demonstrated success in building teams and creating strong organizational brand identities that deepen Extension’s impact among key audiences, build brand loyalty, strengthen employee talent, and expand public engagement. She is a frequent conference presenter at the National Association of Extension 4-H Agents Conference and helps Extension staff across the nation tell compelling stories.