Virginia Cooperative Extension regrets the fighting incident that has now been confirmed to have taken place at the Smith Mountain Lake 4-H Educational Center during the week of June 30 to July 4. We want to thank Franklin County Sheriff Quint Overton and his staff for their professional, prompt and thorough investigation of this incident.

For more than 100 years, 4-H has been helping young people develop into good citizens. Consequently, we do not condone or tolerate the poor judgment and the inexcusable behavior on the part of those individuals who were involved in this deplorable event.

Once informed of the fighting, we immediately initiated several steps to enhance the care and safety of 4-H campers. We also launched an internal review of camp security and camper supervision. In addition, we have looked for ways that current policies and guidelines can be further refined to prevent this from happening again.

Our six 4-H centers are all accredited by the American Camping Association, a national organization which provides rigorous safety standards that govern every aspect of camp staffing, programming and operations. Virginia has one of the largest 4-H camping programs in the country with more than 26,000 participants attending camps annually. This is the first time since 4-H camping began in 1917 that an incident such as this has occurred.

During the week the fighting occurred, there were 22 adult volunteers and Extension staff and 50 teen counselor volunteers from Bedford and Halifax counties as well as permanent summer camp staff who were on the grounds at all times. Extension agents, who accompanied the campers, and a paid night watchman patrolled the lodges and grounds at different times during the late evening and nights. We anticipate that the result of this investigation will provide insight into how this fighting went undetected given the checks and balances and the multiple layers of supervision that are built into the current system.

To date, Virginia Cooperative Extension has taken the following actions:

  • The teen and adult counselors who were implicated in the fighting were immediately suspended as 4-H volunteers and barred from all 4-H activities until completion of the investigation.
  • As of July 15, funds were earmarked and allocated to all six 4-H centers to be used to enhance camp security.
  • A task force of individuals both internal and external to Virginia Cooperative Extension is being finalized and will meet in early August to review this incident as well as all camping policies and procedures affecting camp security and camper safety.
  • The following instructions were communicated to all 4-H camps to be used for the remainder of the summer camping program:
    1. We reaffirmed that a paid staff person (Extension agent or program assistant) or an adult who has completed the Master 4-H Camp Director Training Program, will be on site during the entire camping session.
    2. The paid staff person, or master 4-H camp director, will make nightly checks on all lodges during the camping session with a heightened level of vigilance between the hours of 10 p.m. to midnight, and at other times as deemed appropriate.
    3. All camp counselors, camp programming staff, night security, and volunteers are to be at a heightened level of awareness regarding any complaints of misconduct and immediately report any incidents to the appropriate Extension agent.
    4. All 4-H center staff hired specifically for camp security are to report any and all unusual activities or disturbances occurring in a lodge to an Extension agent, 4-H program assistant, or master 4-H volunteer of the same gender as the respective lodge to immediately deal with any disruptive behavior. Historically, the camp security staff's major responsibility has been to prevent unauthorized persons from entering camp property at night and to keep young people in their lodges after lights out. They have now been directed to take a proactive role in immediately reporting and acting on any questionable behavior.

This incident has certainly raised the awareness of all individuals responsible for 4-H camper supervision on the importance of closely adhering to all policies and guidelines set forth to ensure the safety of all campers. Based on the findings and recommendations of the task force that will meet in early August, further refinements to our 4-H camping policies will be implemented if needed.

Virginia's 4-H camping program has been in existence since 1917. Please rest assured that Virginia Cooperative Extension will take all steps necessary to provide a safe, wholesome, educational, and enjoyable environment for all future 4-H camp participants.

Steven H. Umberger

Director

Virginia Cooperative Extension

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