4-H makes forever memories: Club takes heads, hearts, hands and health nationwide | TheFencePost.com

4-H makes forever memories: Club takes heads, hearts, hands and health nationwide

Marty Metzger | For The Fence Post

Young people have a wonderful 4-H opportunity besides what they gain from projects. For more than 50 years, the 4-H Exchange Club has provided members ages 14-18 firsthand experience by which to learn about other U.S. states and their residents through sharing their state with visitors, staying in host families' homes, experiencing differences and similarities of 4-H programs nationwide, learning unique and historical information about other states, and developing new friendships.

These youngsters belong to clubs in which they pursue the usual projects, from livestock to equestrian to sewing and crafts to shooting sports. Larimer County's Exchange Club adult leader Julee Meiners noted that all participants are high achievers in their own regular clubs. She believes that eager mindset draws them into the wider spectrum of 4-H.

Active 4-H members who join an exchange club participate in a two-year program during which pre-matched groups around the country alternate visits. For example, in 2014 the Larimer County group hosted Pennsylvania members for seven days. This summer, the Larimer County club will travel to PA for a week of fun and education.

Meiners explained how the nationwide exchange program works. Membership is capped every autumn. Each club elects its own officers and a budget is set based on the number of members, with no limit on enrollment. From that point forward, the focus is on the exchange and fundraising.

Clubs are matched on the national 4-H Exchange Club website based on criteria such as group size, dates of state/county fairs and schools' summer closures. Meiners said it can take a month or longer to find a good match.

Member families each host a child from the partner club for their week-long visit.

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Meiners noted that events, particularly an auction, raise 90 percent of funds for expenses. These include airfare for all participants, including two adults chaperones, one male, one female; host club gifts representing their county and state, T-shirts, and miscellaneous costs for the week of their visit.

Each hosting group pays for activities. When groups come here, the Larimer club rents a 15-passenger van to supplement transportation. Plus, out-of-town venues usually involve overnight hotel stays and meals.

A Minnesota club came here in 2012; Larimer County kids went there in 2013 and loved it. They took an excursion down the Mississippi River on a brand new riverboat, learned about the river's impact on the entire U.S. economy, rafted on smaller waterways, and visited an old, yet operational flour mill with its massive wheel powerfully turning and churning.

In 2014, a group from Wyoming County, Penn., an hour from Philadelphia, came to Larimer County to enjoy a week in our Rocky Mountain state. A ride on the Pikes Peak Cog Railroad, Cave of the Winds and Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs, and whitewater rafting at A-1 Wildwater were among the popular forays.

Meiners recalled other years' destinations including visits to working cattle ranches and museum tours such as the Bee Family Farm in Wellington. The idea is to share the host group's state history, local and regional culture, and paint a broad picture of its ag economy. There's certainly no time for boredom because groups are on the go all day and spend evenings socializing at potlucks or restaurants.

Although most activities are enjoyed as a group, a family day is built into the program on which a host family can take their guest child anywhere they choose. One 2014 family and guest camped and hiked at Roosevelt National Forest.

Bonds and memories made through the club can last a lifetime. Meiners fondly spoke of a Wisconsin friend with whom she exchanged letters, Christmas cards and college visits for more than 20 years after meeting in their clubs' exchanges. Two other previous members now each have children in the Larimer club.

The Larimer County group will spend June 25-July 2 in Wyoming County, Penn. Remembering their visit to Colorado last year, PA club members voiced opinions of how that week went.

Eliza Frank said, "I liked everything we did in Colorado, but my favorite was the outdoor stuff, like when we hiked. Our host families were so nice. I feel as though we all got along very well."

"I enjoyed meeting everyone, especially my host family," Will Phinney said. "The Colorado Exchange group took us on a lot of great excursions, we saw historical venues, visited Pikes Peak, camped, hiked, went whitewater rafting and saw a rodeo. I even learned to line dance. … Most of all we had the opportunity to make new friends."

Reganne Whalen spoke of the many ways she has been advancing through her experiences.

"Having the opportunity to do an exchange trip with other states gives me the chance to see diversity, improve my skills in working with others, and grow as a young leader seeing how everyone learns, grows and lives differently," Whalen said. ❖

For more information

The Larimer County 4-H Exchange Club is available online at http://www.larimer.org/ext. In other counties, contact your local Extension office.