by Terry McGuire

They're not voting age yet, but that didn't matter to Virginia Gov. James Gilmore. The 350 children, who were among some 700 people welcoming the governor to the Smith Mountain Lake 4-H Educational Center on August 20, generated enough enthusiasm to energize any politician. The governor was on hand to help the children, Virginia Tech officials, and local business and civic leaders kick off the center's $5-million capital campaign.

It was truly a red-letter day for the center, which has served the youth of Roanoke, Danville, and 19 surrounding counties for 32 years. In announcing the largest fundraising effort in the center's history, John Rocovich, chairman of the Roanoke law firm of Moss & Rocovich and a long time member of the center's board of directors, reported the campaign had already attracted $3.8 million in gifts and commitments toward the development of several new facilities and projects.

Gov. Gilmore led the groundbreaking ceremony for two of the new buildings, the Reid S. Jones Jr. Lodges and Conference Center and the James A. Meador Nature Education Building. A $1.2-million gift from the JOCO Foundation will help fund the construction of the new barrier-free lodges and two-level conference center, named in honor of the late Reid Jones Jr., who was an active member of the 4-H center's board of directors and a member of its campaign steering committee.

"We anticipate that with the new lodges, the center will be able to accommodate an additional 900 youth during summer camping season," said campaign chairman William Skelton, dean emeritus of Virginia Cooperative Extension at Virginia Tech.

The James A. Meador Nature Education Building will house classrooms and meeting areas where courses focusing on environmental studies, aquatics, marine science, and astronomy will be taught. Construction of the building will be partially underwritten by a gift of $250,000 from the family of James Meador, who was a prominent businessman and philanthropist.

The balance of the gifts and commitment already received will support new projects and improvements. "The expansion of facilities means we will be able to offer the camping experience to more youngsters from the area," explained Gino Williams, president of the center's board of directors and Floyd County Commonwealth's Attorney. He also pointed out that 4-H, the youth program of Extension, will have "a modernized educational capability that will bring a wider variety of exciting programs to our youth."

The Smith Mountain Lake 4-H Educational Center is one of six centers located across the state that give 4-H youth the opportunity to participate in outdoor recreational activities. It receives strong program and staff support from Extension, a part of Virginia Tech and Virginia State University. In addition to 4-H youth programs, the center also is available for the activities of other youth groups in the region as well as for business, professional, and civic group conferences. The center currently has five lodges for 300 overnight guests, a 400-guest capacity meeting room and dining hall, amphitheater, and a variety of outdoor sports facilities.

In 1997, more than 11,000 youth and adults participated in center programs.

Terry McGuire is development communications manager for Virginia Tech.

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