Statement From Steve Umberger, Director, Virginia Cooperative Extension

BLACKSBURG, Va., July 8, 2003 – Virginia Cooperative Extension is shocked and deeply concerned about the allegations concerning fighting at the Smith Mountain Lake 4-H Educational Center. We are working with the Franklin County Sheriff's Department and other authorities to determine exactly what happened.

At the same time, we want to reassure parents and young people that 4-H Camp is a safe and wholesome environment for learning as well as enjoyment.

We in no way condone nor tolerate the kinds of behavior that are alleged to have happened during the camp last week. In fact, we work very hard to instill in our young people, and those who work with them, the importance of strong character and good behavior. The actions of last week, if true, are totally contrary to what 4-H stands for and teaches. Parents entrust their children to us, whether for camp or other 4-H activities, and we take that trust very, very seriously.

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 camping programs in the country with more than 26,000 participants attending 4-H camps annually, and this is the first time an incident such as what is alleged here has occurred.

Based on American Camping Association standards and our own experiences, we have established guidelines, procedures and training for our staff and for volunteer counselors. The guidelines call for a minimum of 24 hours of training for volunteers and at least 6 days for paid staff. The minimum training includes a written job description, personnel policies, code of conduct policy, emergency procedures, accountability and other topics. It also includes training on how to work with young people; basic needs of youth; the importance of being positive role models; youth supervision; limits of authority; how to handle various situations that might arise; as well as basic first aid and what to do in an emergency.

We are already reviewing our procedures in light of the alleged incident and will continue to do so as the investigation develops additional information. If needed, we will change or implement additional policies to ensure the care and security of our campers.

We ask any parents with questions or concerns about the 4-H camping programs to contact their local Virginia Cooperative Extension office, the 4-H Educational Center serving your area or the state 4-H Office at (540) 231-6371.