Outdoorsy fun at leadership camp

Shenandoah County Sheriff's Youth Office Leadership Camp participants Brayden Hovatter, 13, left, of Edinburg, Hayden Raley, 11, center, of Edinburg, and camp counselor Megan Babcock, 15, right, of Woodstock, talk outside this Dodge Durango that was part of an evidence scene at the camp at Shrine Mont in Orkney Springs last week. Rich Cooley/Daily

ORKNEY SPRINGS – A group of Shenandoah County middle school students spent their first full week of summer vacation last week investigating crime scenes and conducting search and rescue missions at Shrine Mont campground.

This is the sixth year that the Shenandoah County Sheriff’s Office has held its Youth Leadership Camp for a group of around 30 rising sixth, seventh and eighth grade students.

Sgt. Rebecca Mauck, supervisor of the school resource officer division of the Sheriff’s Office, said that counselors and teachers recommend kids for participation through a selection process.

“Every year we have really great kids,” she said. “They’ve already shown that they’re good leaders.”

Parker Sheetz, a 12-year-old from Woodstock, said this is his first year at the camp, having heard good things about the activities and tasty food from a friend.

Shenandoah County Sheriffs Office Sgt. P.J. Ryman speaks to campers during a question and answer session. Rich Cooley/Daily

“I’ve been to basketball camp, baseball camp,” he said. “None of them really compare to this, though, because you’re with your friends, you’re doing a lot of stuff, you’re always on the move.”

He said his favorite part of camp has been working as part of a tactical team to rescue their “victim” from a car. But discovering evidence and looking at the scene of a “dead body” during the criminal investigations activity on Wednesday came close.

“It was fun, digging out in the fire pit and finding stuff,” he said. “It brings out your inner Scooby-Doo, I guess.”

Along with daily activities that focus on divisions of the Sheriff’s Office and evening leadership classes, campers spend plenty of time hiking, swimming and having other outdoorsy fun in and around Shrine Mont. Mauck said the camp also helps acquaint kids with the team of nine school resource officers.

Besides the campers, nine high school-age kids serve as counselors throughout the week. Mauck said those counselors – many of them former campers – are able to take development of their leadership skills a step further.

Sean McKinley,12, of Strasburg, stands with other campers in this cabin at Shrine Mont where a mannequin representing a murdered man rests on a cot. Campers looked for clues and discussed their findings with the department's investigators to help solve the slaying. Rich Cooley/Daily

Zach Stewart, 17, was a camper for several years and a counselor throughout high school. As a rising senior at Central High School, he was head counselor this summer and said he helped relay communication between the officers, counselors and campers. From his time as both a camper and counselor, he said the camp’s been a unique experience where every camper plays an important and meaningful part.

“The stuff that they have you do and the relationships that you build and the skills that you build – they’re invaluable,” he said. “They’ve come back to help me later in school and in the community.”

Stewart said a lot of the kids start out quiet and really open up as the week goes on. Mauck also said it was clear to see that this year’s group meshed well from watching their cooperation during activities like the tactical team rescue.

“These kids were taking it so seriously, their communication was unbelievable,” she said. “They showed compassion and they showed leadership, communication – it was great to just sit back and watch.”

Contact staff writer Rachel Mahoney at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or rmahoney@nvdaily.com