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The Daily



06-19-03: Wet and dirty
The Daily Standard
    Shrieks of laughter could be heard all over Harbor Point 4-H Campground on Wednesday. Kids were chasing each other with hoses and water balloons, some with their hair painted green and many covered with mud from head to toe.
    Of course the "kids" weren't the 9- to 13-year-old campers, they were the high school-age camp counselors who seemed to be having just as much fun - maybe more - than the youngsters who watched them in awe.
    "I skipped my senior trip to come here," Erin Weitzel, a recent graduate of St. Henry High School, said proudly as she watched her fellow counselors slide in the mud.
    Every year, hundreds of 4-Hers from all over Mercer County attend the camp along Grand Lake St. Marys. When they reach the high school level, many of them volunteer as counselors in training (CIT), and later as full-fledged counselors at the camp. After countless hours of class and on-sight training, they learn to be full-time caregivers to the younger 4-H members.
    Barb Phares, youth development agent for the Ohio State University Extension Office, said the counselors are a gift from heaven.
    "We couldn't do it without them, I know that," Phares said. "You know how busy teens are these days, but they still take the time to come back and help us make the camps successful."
    The companionship between the counselors is special, and so is the caring way they dote on the little campers who follow them around like puppies. They nestle down at night next to the tearful ones with homesickness, and listen patiently to the campers countless stories as they jabber on non-stop.
    Nearly all the counselors on hand this week spent their first-time camping experiences at Harbor Point, too, so they have a special insight into the needs of the campers.
    "For most of the little guys, it's the first time they're away from home overnight and they get real quiet at first," said 19-year-old camp counselor Brenda Broering, an 11-year 4-H veteran and Marion Local grad. "Later they open up and you know they're going to be OK."
    Weitzel said she likes the big sister role she plays when inevitably one of the campers gets "attached."
    "You have this little sidekick that goes everywhere with you. You get the opportunity to calm them down and watch them make friends," said Weitzel, who spent four years as a camper, one year as a CIT and is in her fourth year as a full camp counselor.
    This is the second week of overnight 4-H camp, which is held from Monday through Thursday. About 100 campers attended each week along with two dozen or so counselors, a nurse, adult volunteers, Phares and an assistant. Guest speakers came in throughout the week and, as always, the children were kept busy with a host of crafts and other activities.
    Although the days are filled with fun, the antics really get started at sundown around the campfire, campers and counselors agree.
    "That's my favorite time," quipped Erin Weitzel's younger sister, Lauren, 16.
    It's also the time when counselors find out who the most gullible campers are. Games are often played after dark and skits are performed to entertain the young boys and girls.
    There are many traditions upheld each year at camp and the counselors know and enforce them all. Campers must sing aloud for the items they retrieve from the lost and found. And it's not unusual to see children skipping around the dining hall when they forget to keep their elbows off the table.
    Cabins 4 and 9 recently learned the hard way about the importance of cabin cleanliness. Twice during their four-day stay their sloppiness was rewarded with bathroom clean-up duties. Also, the cabin that is the loudest each night is responsible for taking out all the trash the next day.
    There are lessons to be learned, but the good times keep the campers coming back each year.
    "We get ice cream or donuts or something like that before bed every night," smiled Katelyn Skoczyn, 11, of Celina, as her friends nodded nearby.
    And of course the counselors have their moments of disagreement, but they soon forgive and forget when a playful soap fight erupts in the kitchen.
    "What's neat is we come from all over the county, from different schools, and we come together to have fun," Broering said. "It's all about making friends."


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The Standard Printing Company
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