Each summer, 50 kids from Hernando County get to camp out in cabins and spend five days experiencing the outdoors at Camp Ocala.
Their families' financial wherewithal doesn't matter. The Hernando County 4-H Association picks up the tab — $180 to $200 per camper.
To raise the money, the association has an annual benefit auction and dinner, and the 19th annual event will be Saturday at the Suncoast Dance and Party Center on County Line Road.
The auction — with big-ticket items offered during a verbal sale and smaller ones displayed for silent sale — raises $7,000 to $10,000 a year, said 4-H extension agent Nancy Moores.
After the cost of camp scholarships is covered, additional money is earmarked for 4-Hers traveling to compete at district and state events and for older 4-H members to stretch their leadership experiences by taking part in Legislature Week in Tallahassee, state 4-H Congress at the University of Florida and the Citizenship Focus program in Washington, D.C.
"Just during the summer months," Moores said, "we spend $7,000 to $10,000."
Delaney Ahrens, 16, won a $1,000 association scholarship to attend the summer governmental program in the nation's capital.
Moores maintains that the residential camp scholarships — which include lodging, food, transportation, hands-on learning and outdoor pleasures — are "still the biggest bargain in town."
Because of the scholarships, Hernando fills its camper allotment while two other counties that share the regional facility do not, the 4-H agent said, adding, "No child should miss camp because their family can't afford to send them."
As well as financial need, scholarships are awarded on merit.
Eleven-year-old Nicholas Lollie of Brooksville just knows he wants to attend.
For the past three summers, the 4-H Clover Bud graduated to full-fledged membership in the Pure Country 4-H Club.
"It's meant that I get to have fun and hang out with lots of friends and learn something new," Nicholas said.
At camp he has chosen activities in fishing, sewing, crafts and photography.
"You learn a lot," he said. "I want to do forest ecology."
His mother, Jeannette Lollie, who volunteers as camp nurse, explained that the fishing endeavor has taught Nicholas not just how to bait a hook and cast a line, but about water temperatures, algae, fish varieties and their tastes.
"In addition to education, they're learning leadership and about staying focused," said Jeannette Lollie. "(Leaders) are teaching them without their even knowing they're learning."
At her first 4-H camp this past summer, Emily Buck, 12, of Brooksville built on her eight years of experience hunting wild hogs with her dad, James Buck. Emily has pursued camp sessions in nature, archery and canoeing. She liked archery the best, but said "no way" would she hunt hogs with a bow and arrow.
Nonetheless, Emily's hunting treks led to her first 4-H project, raising a market hog, which she showed and sold at the Hernando County Fair and Youth Livestock Sale.
Numerous items have been donated for the Saturday evening auction, said association board member Helen Fleming. "What we need are to sell tickets."
Among the items: three family photographic portrait offerings, valued at $650 each, given by Cason Photography of Tampa, and four rounds of golf plus cart by Triple S Golf Ranch of Dade City, to be paired with restaurant coupons.
Many coupons for area attractions, outings and restaurants, plus various services and themed baskets of goodies, will be offered.
James Buck already has purchased 10 tickets, aiming to fill a table by inviting friends to join the family.
During 4-H's last program year, 682 young people were reached through 4-H clubs, and 750 to 1,000 more by short-term 4-H programs. Sixteen clubs throughout the county offered projects in robotics, sewing, foods and nutrition, entomology, horticulture, livestock, shooting sports, teen leadership and civic responsibility.
Beth Gray can be contacted at [email protected]