Farmers Union 2015 camp season begins

Farm Forum

HURON – The first time, Jason Hanson, 17, attended Farmers Union camp; he was holding his dad, Lorrie’s hand.

“It was important to dad that I attend camp because he grew up going to Farmers Union camp and wanted me to share in a similar experience,” said Hanson, who will graduate from Britton/Hecla High School this May and plans to attend North Dakota State University to study Animal Science.

Hanson is one of six teens who are involved in planning the 2015 camps as a member of the Farmers Union Junior Advisory Council.

“Camp is something I look forward to attending each summer because it is so much fun and I’ve met some of my best friends there,” Hanson said. “Now I get to help younger kids learn and have fun at camp.”

This summer’s camp season is gearing up for the 2,000-plus rural youth ages 6 through high school seniors who will be attending one or more of the 58 county day camps; three, three-day district camps and one state leadership camp.

“We make sure camp is fun, but also informational. It’s our hope that through camp, youth learn more about themselves, gain confidence, make friends and glean a clear understanding of the cooperative system, agriculture and farm safety,” says Bonnie Geyer, South Dakota Farmers Union Education Director.

Helping Geyer with camp preparations is a team of dedicated district and county education directors, top-notch high school students who make up the Junior Advisory Council and select Torchbearers, who serve as the Senior Advisory Council, along with a team of four energetic summer interns.

“This is a real team effort,” Geyer says.

Although preparing for camp is a real task, volunteers like Denise Mushitz, District 1 Education Director, says the positive impact camp has on youth makes all the work worth it.

“It is so rewarding to see a young person come to district camp as a 6-years-old and then watch them develop leadership and social skills as they go through all the stages of the youth program. And, eventually, because I have been involved in many of these young people’s lives, they invite me to their weddings,” Mushitz explains.

A third-generation Farmers Union member, Mushitz started attending camp at 6 and credits Farmers Union camp with giving her confidence and a life-long bond with the organization.

“I was a shy kid, but Farmers Union camp was a place where I could go and be myself. It gave me skills that I use in my job every day,” says the middle school teacher who farms and ranches with her husband, John, near Geddes.

Each year, Mushitz sees kids like her pulled out of their shell and develop life-long friendships. “There are many kids who say they are closer to their Farmers Union friends than their friends from high school.”

Although she is a generation younger than Mushitz, Tyana Gottsleben can relate. Attending Farmers Union camp from the time she was 5, the Philip High School senior cannot wait for the 2015 camp season to begin.

“I look forward to meeting all the campers as they arrive at camp,” says Gottsleben, who will be attending Northern State University this fall pursuing a degree in Early Childhood Education. “As a young camper I enjoyed meeting new friends and participating in all the fun activities the counselors had planned for us.”

The last few summers Gottsleben, like Hanson, has been the one planning activities as a District camp counselor and is currently one of two college students to serve on the Senior Advisory Council. In this role, she serves as a mentor to the Junior Advisory Council and helps them plan State Leadership Camp.

“It’s always a challenge to find enough time for all the activities we plan for the campers – but somehow we squeeze it all in,” Gottsleben says. “Through the Farmers Union camp and serving on the teams who plan camp, I have developed many skills that have helped me be a better leader and have become an independent person. This will continue to serve me as I leave home for college and pursue a career in education.”