Since 1948, Western Illinois Youth Camp, formally known as Western Illinois 4-H Camp, has been providing fun, educational, and healthy activities for adults and children alike. The camp, which is located on the South East side of Lake Jacksonville, has undergone many changes during its 65 years of existence, however, the vision of maintaining a facility that promotes quality outdoor experiences has been unwavering.
Approximately ten years ago, due to lacking financial funds, the 4-H federation relinquished its ties with the grounds and the facility transitioned into the Western Illinois Youth Camp that is in operation today. One of the biggest changes to occur during that time of transition came in the form of a sizeable monetary donation from the Jacksonville Kiwanis Club. With that donation, the Kiwanis Club decided they would like to have representation on the camp’s board, which led Kiwanis members Harry Coop and Bob Large to join the Western Illinois Youth Camp Board. Once on the board, Coop and Large discovered the camp’s dire financial and physical situation, and recruited several other Kiwanis members to join the board and assist in saving the camp.
“Once we were on the board we realized they were in way worse shape than we thought. We went back to the Kiwanis Club and said we need to get involved here. Who wants to help? So we got about six volunteers who joined the board with us and together we’ve been at it ever since. In about eight years we took a facility that was financially broke and broken, nothing worked and everything leaked, and taken it to a functional facility with summer camps and a bank account,” Large said.
A new roof on themaintenance building, a brand new kitchen in the craft hall, a resurfaced swim dock, and converting a dive tower into a lifeguard tower are just a few of the major renovations that have taken place on the camp property in recent years. Although these projects have greatly improved the physical condition of the camp, there is still much work to be done. The board is looking ahead towards the future of the camp with its next project; a completely handicap assessable shower house.
The new shower house is not only vital in order to accommodate special needs groups that already attend Western Illinois Youth Camp, such as Camp Courage, a weeklong summer session for children with physical disabilities, but the board hopes that by having these up to date facilities in place the camp will be of more use to the entire West Central Illinois community for years to come.
“Overtime what we’re trying to do is maintain a wilderness camp in this electronic environment that we all live in. We really do take the kids into the woods and they pick up sticks and build wilderness shelters and go fishing, literally with a string and a safety pin. They play in canoes and they swim almost all day long, they shoot arrows, it’s this camping experience that most people remember and we’re trying to maintain that for this generation and the next,” said Large.
In addition to summer time overnight and day camps, the property and its facilities are available for private rental for events such as birthday parties, weddings, and family reunions. More information about the Western Illinois Youth Camp can be found by visiting their website at www.wiyc.net.