Campers unplug from technology at 4-H camp

By Dick Mason, The Observer July 12, 2013 11:26 am

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VH_o1nruDz0

Cell phones and wireless technology of any kind was nowhere to be found this week among the 124 boys and girls attending the annual Blue Mountain Tri-County 4-H Camp. 

Still, the youths were connected in a big way — with their peers and an experience they will remember far longer than any visit made to a website.

The camp, situated 11 miles north of La Grande, kicked off Wednesday. The three-day camp was for children in grades 4 to 7. Campers attended 40-minute class sessions where they learned about relaxation, the art of teamwork, T-shirt design and preparing food dishes, which are as healthy as they are tasty.

All this in the absence of cellphones, which campers are permitted to use only on a very limited basis, said Carole Smith, the camp director. 

“They are disconnected so they can be immersed in the camp experience,” Smith said.

Campers attending the 40-minute teamwork class Wednesday were clearly immersed in their efforts. They learned to pass balls to each other in a circle using only their feet, and propel a “trolley’’ by standing on it in groups of six to eight and swaying while holding ropes.

“It is all about being able to work together, to learn to listen, communicate, share ideas and figure out strategies,” said Oregon State University Extension Service’s Bob Parker, who helped teach the class at what was known as the “challenge station.”

Parker said projects requiring teamwork level the playing field. 

“It is a great equalizer. Size, age and gender do not matter,” Parker said. 

The relaxation class, taught by Annie McClelland of Dallas, helped campers learn about the roots of stress and how to calm themselves down.

“I want them to recognize stress and know how to address it,’’ said McClelland, who earlier lived in La Grande.

Robin Maille of the OSU Extension Service taught the campers how to make zestful salads from only four items, and an alternative to traditional salad dressing that is light and delicious. Maille said she wanted to show campers that preparing healthy and tasty foods is easy and fun.

On the opening day of camp, things moved quickly as boys and girls attended a blitz of 10-minute classes. This helped the youths from Union, Wallowa, Baker and Umatilla counties get acclimated quickly. 

“We wanted to get them mixing right away,’’ Smith said. 

Madison Bailey of Joseph has been coming to the camp each summer for four years. She said she is continuing to attend because she wants to later become a counselor at the camp. The Joseph youth added that she likes being in the woods at the 4-H Center.

“I enjoy getting away from television,” she said.

A total of 27 counselors in grades 8 to 12 are working at the camp. Many attended as campers when they were younger, including Trevor Verhelst of Union High School and Hagen Shelden of Pendleton High
School. 

Verhelst said his experience as a camper is serving him well at the camp.

“Knowing what is going on makes it easier to help out,” Verhelst said.

Shelden said he likes encouraging campers who are shy and on the sidelines to take more of an active role in activities. 

“I tell them how fun it actually is,” Shelden said.

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