Life Hacks for Teens

Kaitlyn McBroom (left) and Rhiannon Greenhill (right) work on sewing at the first annual Orange County 4-H Life Hacks for Teens camp.

On Friday afternoon, Orange County 4-H engaged in the final afternoon session of the three-part series Life Hacks for Teens at the Orange County Center.

The program was created to teach high school-aged students practical life skills that will benefit them away from home, whether it be preparing for life in college or living on their own.

Life Hacks for Teens was inspired by Jonathon Smith, an extension agent for 4-H Youth Development, who began brainstorming ideas in the spring for a camp that targets practical skills to help kids grow. 

“I sat down first of all with my wife and we were talking about some of the things that we had heard on the news,” Smith said. “Specifically in North Carolina they’re talking about kids do not know how to write a check or do basic financial budgeting.”

Smith and his wife created a list of ideas, such as sending a proper email and changing a tire. Then, Smith consulted the two Orange County 4-H college interns from N.C. State to come up with other potential skills that could be taught in the camp, as well. With that, the camp was born.

“We’re just kind of finding ideas and doing our own things and seeing what we like and what works best,” Smith said. “It’s going really well so far this year.”

The first annual camp consisted of three four-hour sessions on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. With five students from the local community participating in the camp, it gave each teenager the opportunity to learn skills while interacting with the other campers. 

“It’s a tight group which means we’re all a bit closer, so it’s easy to bounce off each other and work together,” said Rhiannon Greenhill, one of the campers.

On Monday, Greenhill and the other campers engaged in games that allowed the opportunity for team-building and icebreakers. Then, the Orange County 4-H consumer science agent conducted a food safety presentation to help the campers when working in the kitchen. Perhaps the most valuable lesson of the day was learning how to budget and write a check. The campers were even taught how to use a budgeting app, which is easily accessible on smartphones.

For camper Ean Wagoner, the lesson on budgeting was extremely beneficial.

“It has helped me prepare for college, figure out ways to budget, which is really going to be helpful when I do go to college,” Wagoner said. “That’s probably one of the most useful things I’ve learned so far.”

The second day saw the campers learn ways to present a positive image on social media and the group also went to the Orange County Motor Pool to teach the kids how to change a tire.

For Greenhill and fellow camper Kaitlyn McBroom, changing a tire was a valuable experience.

“That was interesting, but it was also fun at the same time because I couldn’t turn it, so it was really fun,” McBroom said.

McBroom also enjoyed the time management lesson Wednesday, and said that learning time management “ was really important to me.”

Friday’s session saw Becky Smith and Shari Latta from the Extension Community Association teach the campers how to thread a needle, sew a stitch and sew on a button. Following the first exercise, the students engaged in yoga to help with stress and then made salsa, a snack that is easy to make when living in a dorm room. The final lesson of the day was a fashion show to instruct the campers on how to dress professionally, casually and business casual.

The lessons moved quickly, allowing the students to learn many different topics. Smith felt the variety of skills that were taught was something the campers enjoyed.

“We’ve been changing topics really quickly and I see the lightbulbs coming on, ‘Oh, I can do this. This makes more sense,’” Smith said. “I think they feel like they’re getting a competitive advantage in life because they’re going through this program.”

Each of the campers left the program with skills they did not have before, whether it be changing a tire, learning how to budget, or learning how to sew. Greenhill said she would “absolutely” recommend the program to other students. With that kind of endorsement, more campers could join the program next summer.

“I’m excited in what’s coming down the road,” said Smith, who noted the Orange County Public Library had expressed interest in partnering with the camp. “I don’t know what it is but it will be bigger and better, I think.”