Summer Camp Fund

4H camp: It’s not just for future farmers anymore. Camp BJP sparks the scientist in kids

Two campers at Camp BJP, a 4-H camp in Reidsville, N.C., enjoy some paddling time.
Two campers at Camp BJP, a 4-H camp in Reidsville, N.C., enjoy some paddling time.

4-H has been around since the late 1800s, when researchers discovered that farmers didn’t readily accept new agricultural ideas developed at universities. But their children did.

Since then, 4-H has used hands-on learning to connect public education to agrarian life. Today, 4-H camps are still connecting young people to nature.

4-H has operated camps in North Carolina since 1964. That’s the year the Betsy-Jeff Penn 4-H Educational Center – BJP, for short – was founded as a gift from Betsy Penn to the N.C. State University 4-H program in memory of her husband, Jefferson Penn. The center in Reidsville, N.C. includes nearly 200 acres of fields, forests, lakes and streams.

The camp there offers kids ages 8 to 14 traditional camp activities, including a rock-climbing wall, horseback riding, archery, canoeing, swimming (a pool and a lake), low- and high-ropes courses, and whitewater rafting for older campers.

Thanks to the Charlotte Observer Summer Camp Fund, five kids from the Cabarrus County 4-H program went to Camp BJP July 16-21. They are among more than 500 children who will attend 33 camps this summer because readers donated to the Observer’s Summer Camp Fund.

The goal this year is to raise $215,000 to send hundreds more to camp next summer.

BJP Campers aren’t necessarily future farmers – but they may be future scientists and environmentalists.

Camp leaders cleverly disguise science, math and literacy lessons into activities like geocaching, orienteering, and keeping nature journals.

BJP also exposes campers to Piedmont ecosystems and wildlife. Wetlands, streams, forests, and 22-acre Lake Hazel provide opportunities to study aquatic biology, water quality, forest ecology, and wildlife habitats.

Campers can also learn firsthand what it may have been like to be a pioneer in America. They have opportunities to experience early settlers’ building techniques, food prep, and toy- and candle-making.

“For half our scholarship kids this is the first time they have been away from home,” said Tracy LeCompte, a 4-H extension agent from NCSU’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. “They would not have had this experience without the scholarship.”

LeCompte, who is the 4-H agent for Cabarrus County, attends camp with the kids from Cabarrus County the week they’re assigned to attend camp.

Taz Cagle, 9, was one of LeCompte’s campers this year. His older brothers went to a 4-H music camp in Atlanta this summer, so Taz went to BJP without his big brothers.

“He was apprehensive about going alone,” said his mom, Caroline Cagle of Concord. “I told him he needed to branch out and learn to take on new adventures alone. He tried it and loved it! He figured out he can do a lot more things by himself than he ever imagined.”

Cagle appreciates the egalitarian nature of Camp BJP.

“4-H camp allows a good mix of kids from all walks of life to get together,” she said. “It’s not determined by your athletic abilities or academics. It’s just kids coming together to have a good time outdoors and learning to work and live together.”

To give to the Summer Camp Fund

The Summer Camp Fund has a $215,000 goal this year and about a week to go. Donate at Or send donations to The Summer Camp Fund, P.O. Box 37269, Charlotte, NC 28237-7269.

Each Sunday during the drive, the Observer will list contributors to the fund. If you wish to make an anonymous donation, indicate it on the “for” line of your check or on PayPal, note your preference in the special instructions field. To donate in honor or in memory of someone, use the “for” line or special instructions field. Donations are tax-deductible and are processed through Observer Charities, a 501(c)(3).

If you have questions about your donation: 704-358-5520.