Spending days learning new skills. Swimming and cozying up with your closest friends by a campfire at dusk. It sounds too good to be true, but its a typical day at a West Virginia 4-H camp.

Kids constantly say,When I go to 4-H camp I can be who I am, without worrying about people judging me or making fun of me,said Debbie McDonald, West Virginia University Extension Services state 4-H leader, as she tried to explain themagicof 4-H camp.We really try to make all the kids feel like theyre welcome.

But 4-H camp is not just forkids.State 4-H camps include programs for students ages 5 to 21. More than 20,000 West Virginia youth attend 162 weeks of 4-H residential and day camps offered in the state, providing something for everyone.

Our camping program is designed to embrace the essential elements of youth development: independence, generosity, belonging and mastery,McDonald said.

The camping program incorporates the essential elements of youth development by providing campers with social activities, volunteer projects, leadership opportunities and classes designed to teach new skills.

There are plenty of opportunities to try somethingeven if you only try it once. Camps offer classes in everything from outdoor cooking to yoga to song writing,McDonald said.

Kids can engage their creativity and development in camps offered throughout West Virginia. During the three state camps held at WVU Jacksons Mill, 4-H members conduct community service projects.

At this years Older 4-H MembersConference, campers and staff volunteered 1,125 hours to three such projects: making 59 baby blankets for the Ronald McDonald House in Morgantown; raising money to buy stuffed bears for rescue squad attendants to give to ill children; and cleaning up outside areas at the Mill. Similar projects are scheduled for Alpha II State Camp July 16-21.

West Virginia has the largest number of camps of all the 4-H programs in the country,McDonald said.Literally everybody is welcome. We work to accommodate special needs and provide age-appropriate activities.

WVU Extension Service also works to provide these opportunities at a low cost. According to McDonald, 4-H donors provide thousands of dollars in camp scholarships annually.

Wed like to think that no child misses out on camp because they cant afford it.

We work hard for that not to be the case,McDonald said.

Many of the opportunities are educational or informative, but 4-H camps also stress the importance of recreation and reflection with peers.

Over and over again, I hear 4-H alums talk about the quality and intensity of the friendships theyve formed while at 4-H camp,McDonald said.Some people even meet their future spouses at camp.

Campers choose to belong to one of four tribes: Cherokee, Delaware, Mingo and Seneca. All have roots in West Virginias heritage.

Theres a full-time WVU Extension faculty member on site at every camp. We also train college students to assist these faculty members,McDonald said.

WVU Extension Service organizes the 4-H Youth Development Program in every county in West Virginia through county Extension offices, reaching 56,000 young people each year. The program relies heavily on more than 7,800 adult volunteers. One in five West Virginia youths ages 9 to 19 participate in the 4-H program, making it the largest youth development program in the state.

Besides organizing camps, 4-H provides educational programs through clubs, individual projects, after-school programs and special interest groups that open avenues to entrepreneurship, community service, technology education and career experiences.

In fact, the Collegiate 4-H Club at WVU was named the 2006 National Collegiate 4-H Club of the Year.

For more information about 4-H and other WVU Extension programs, visit the WVU Extension Service Web siteor call your county WVU Extension office.