Campers at 4-H Camp Cherry Lake, in Madison County

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Growing up in north Florida during the 1960s, Clara Floyd was an avid 4-H member. “I ate, slept and breathed 4-H. I just about turned ‘green,’” she said, referring to the program’s green cloverleaf emblem.
So when her children were old enough to join 4-H themselves, she signed them up. Her daughters embraced it, but Ryan, her youngest, wasn’t sold.
“I had to drag him to meetings. It was heartbreaking — how could I have given birth to a child who didn’t love 4-H,” Floyd said. By the time Ryan was 12, Floyd decided to give him one more chance. “I said, this summer, you’re going to Camp Cherry Lake,” she said.
Located in Madison County just south of the Georgia border, Camp Cherry Lake is one of three sleep-away camps operated by Florida 4-H, which is part of the University of Florida IFAS Extension.
Surrounded by woods and overlooking Cherry Lake, the camp’s rustic cabins and meeting halls give it an old-school summer camp feel. Hundreds of youth attend each year, where they spend time with newfound friends on the water and around the campfire. Those who have a financial need are given scholarships to attend 4-H camps.
“My first day at camp, I didn’t know anybody, and I felt ready to leave,” said Ryan Floyd, now 22. “But then I told myself, if I can make it through the night, I’ll be okay.”
Ryan did make it through the night, and through the rest of the session. He made friends and looked up to the older kids, who acted as camp counselors. “That’s who I wanted to be, so I did all I could to make sure I could become a counselor, too,” Ryan said.
He applied to be a counselor and got the job. The UF/IFAS Extension Madison County 4-H agent, Becky Bennett, told him he would be in charge of a group of kids with special needs. Ryan found he loved working with the kids, and the camp adults saw he had a talent for it. The following years, he attended camp on scholarship and continued working with special needs children, sometimes at multiple camps throughout the summer.
“I feel like I grew a lot from that experience,” Ryan said. “My patience for children grew tremendously. I feel like I’ve been able to carry that forward into college and adulthood — the ability to meet a group of new people and get along with them right away.” His mom agreed.
“He developed this understanding of children, and knew to watch out for those who needed a friend or extra encouragement,” she said. “I saw him mature because of camp. That kind of skill, understanding what’s going on with a person, helps you become a better leader.”
And she was pleased.
“Ryan finally ‘got’ what 4-H was all about. When he came home from camp, he came back ‘green,’” she said.
Like Ryan, many 4-H youth are able to attend camp because of scholarships, said Neva Baltzell, 4-H Camp Cherry Lake director.
“That extra financial help means more kids get to have that formative camp experience. They’ll try things they’ve never done before, meet people they wouldn’t have otherwise met, and get training in leadership and teamwork, all while they are learning to be on their own away from home,” she said.
To learn more about supporting Florida 4-H camp scholarships, contact Katie Morris at katiemorris@ufl.edu or (352)846-4444.