Feature Article - March 2009
Find a printable version here

The Nature Connection

Outdoor Programming Takes Off

By Stacy St. Clair

The innovative program was the product of a brainstorming meeting at an annual retreat for senior center managers in West Central Nebraska. As the managers gathered at the 4-H camp for the conference, they realized their patrons—many of whom grew up in 4-H Clubs—would relish a return to such a nostalgic setting.

"It's not just something kids enjoy," said Connie Cox, director of the Nebraska State 4-H camp.

Flexibility was a key factor in developing the three-day program, organizers said. The outing basically included all the same activities as the children's camps, but the overall pace was slowed. Campers were encouraged to relax and be easygoing. Campers also were urged to participate in activities, but they were not held to a rigid schedule. Those who were not interested in planned activities, for example, sometimes hunted instead.

In addition to the traditional 4-H nature activities, the itinerary included two programs designed to enhance the camp experience for senior citizens. The first was an information session on health-care issues of relevance to older Nebraskans. This lecture was presented by the West Central Area Agency on Aging, which co-sponsored the camps. The topics were always uplifting, so as to help boost the campers' feelings of self-sufficiency and well-being.

In keeping with the carefree, back-to-nature atmosphere, the staff called the senior campers "kids" and old-fashioned pranks were common. Campers from various communities wore matching sweatshirts, which built camaraderie and stoked rivalries among the groups. The entire experience sparked a sense of nostalgia among the seniors, prompting them to share their own memories of camp shenanigans and special moments. At the program's end, individual campers were given awards that served as reminders of events that occurred during camp and of newly forged friendships.

The camping program—which initially was slated to be held every three years—has not been held in several years, but organizers said they would consider reviving it.