Not just for farm kids anymore

Published 9:33 am Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Mackenzie Hanssen, a fourth-grader and member of the Shell Rock 4-H Club, shows off her purple-ribbon winning jewelry set, now on display at Northbridge Mall. -- Michelle Haacke/Albert Lea Tribune

Four-H isn’t just for farm kids.

While agriculture has always been a cornerstone of the youth projects, a display celebrating National 4-H Week at Northbridge Mall shows a variety of areas being explored by Freeborn County 4-H’ers.

Several quilted items made by Freeborn County 4-H’ers are on display at Northbridge Mall this week in honor of National 4-H week. -- Michelle Haacke/Albert Lea Tribune

“In the last two years in Minnesota, 4-H has made a push towards the computer age, GPS, windmills, science engineering and technology,” said Freeborn County 4-H Program Coordinator Amy Wadding.

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The biggest project area for Freeborn County’s 578 4-H members, Wadding said, is photography, followed by aerospace and rocketry and GPS. She said one of the more intricate projects she could think of was a Ferris wheel built of legos, with a motor to make it go around.

Tenth grader Ella Otten of the Hayward 4-H Club is displaying this hand crafted chair, a home improvement project, at Northbridge Mall in honor of National 4-H Week. -- Michelle Haacke/Albert Lea Tribune

Wadding said that this push into new technologies is in response to the direction that careers are heading towards in the future. “We give them a taste of this, to see if it’s something they want to go into, and we’re getting a huge response,” she said.

Another trend Wadding has noticed is that 4-H members in Freeborn County don’t just hail from farms anymore.

“We have a lot of kids in the city picking up livestock projects — goats and rabbits — because they’re easy to care for in town. You can keep them in your basement or in your backyard,” she said.

She said the dog projects are also popular, because dogs are also considered livestock but easy to raise and care for within the city limits.

Perhaps the number one goal of the 171 youth leaders and 135 adult volunteers involved in Freeborn County 4-H is the fundamental 4-H ideal of practical “learn by doing” experiences.

Wadding referred to several projects that have led to memorable experiences in youth, one sewing project in particular. “We had a girl who worked on sewing with her grandma and aunt. She was learning and every year, getting better and better,” she said.

Projects are now on display from over 30 Freeborn County 4-H members at Northbridge Mall in honor of National 4-H Week. -- Michelle Haacke/Albert Lea Tribune

Eventually, the girl made her own prom dress, wearing it to the prom and having her picture taken in the dress.

“That’s something you remember,” said Wadding. “Most people can’t say they’ve done something like that. These are lifelong skills.”

Kim Otten, the 4-H leader for the Hayward 4-H Club, appreciates the benefits youth get from parliamentary procedures.

“Learning to conduct and run meetings is huge,” Otten said, referring to her own personal experiences professionally and with volunteer organizations. “That’s a real life skill.”

These blouses, handmade by Jenni Goldbuff and Gigi Otten, both of the Hayward 4-H Club, are among over 30 items on display in honor of National 4-H Week at Northbridge Mall. -- Michelle Haacke/Albert Lea Tribune

For the kids, however, the benefits are more immediate, and perhaps simpler.

MacKenzie Hanssen, a fourth-grader at Glenville-Emmons Elementary School, is in her first year with the Shell Rock 4-H Club. She joined because “I thought it would be fun.”

Her very first jewelry project, a matching necklace, bracelet, ring and earrings set, earned her a junior champion purple ribbon at the Freeborn County Fair this summer. The ribbon was nice, but she said the best part was meeting new friends.

“It’s a good way to get to know kids in the area and from other clubs, not just those your age,” her mother, Brenda Hanssen, agreed.

Youth are eligible to participate in 4-H from grades kindergarten through one year after high school.

Overall, Wadding appreciates the community support 4-H receives in Freeborn County.

“4-H is a huge part of Freeborn County. The people are really seeing the value of it,” she said, adding she sees many second and third generation 4-H’ers coming from the same families.

“In addition to the rewards, the kids get a safe environment to explore in,” she added.

Freeborn County 4-H’ers are celebrating with national science day activities and project displays at Northbridge Mall throughout National 4-H Week, Oct. 4 through 8. Projects on display at Northbridge Mall are individual and group champion, reserve champion and junior champion projects.

In addition to the displays, local youth will be talking about their 4-H experiences on KATE 1450 AM and KQAQ 970 AM all week.

National science day activities are being conducted at the Glenville-Emmons after school program.