March 17, 2004 | By: Aimee D. Heald

Kentucky 4-Hers showed up en masse to be a part of state government for a day on March 9.  State 4-H President John Mains believes the large turnout is a testament to 4-H leadership in the Commonwealth.

“It lets people see how active, large and involved 4-H is in Kentucky,” Mains said.  “There are more than 280,000 people involved in 4-H programs in Kentucky.”

Mains was one of about 300 participants in “4-H: A Capitol Experience.”  Youth and adults alike had an opportunity to observe how state government works.  In the morning they were encouraged to attend legislative committee meetings relevant to issues in their home counties such as land use, appropriations, or the environment.

“We want our young people to know about government and civic engagement,“ said Wendy Stivers, University of Kentucky Extension 4-H youth development specialist in the College of Agriculture. “We want them to know how government works at the local, state and national levels.”

Stivers said 4-H encourages members to get involved in their local communities and then be a part of this event or others at the state level.  A group of 4-Hers will go to Washington D.C. in June this year to learn more about national government.

“Now we’re seeing youth, 14, 15 and 16-years-old sitting on area development councils, chambers of commerce or history museums in their own communities,” Stivers said.  “So they are learning to have a voice now that they can continue throughout their lives.”

Part of “4-H: A Capitol Experience” included a meeting with members of the Legislative Research Commission, lobbyists and others.  Former 4-H state officer Edwin Orange now works for Boards and Commissions in Frankfort. He talked to the participants about the importance of getting involved at the local level and how it parallels with engagement at the state level.

“A large part of 4-H is leadership,” Mains said.  “As you can see by some of the alumni who are now in government or politics, a lot of 4-Hers will move into political careers someday.”

During their capitol experience, 4-Hers were afforded many photograph opportunities with key leaders and policymakers. 

UK Assistant Director for 4-H Youth Development Programs Joe Kurth said both legislative chambers closed down specifically to allow 4-Hers to pose for group shots with House Speaker Jody Richards and Senate President David Williams.

“The capitol is just a source of pride for people to come and see what it’s all about,” Kurth said.  “For some of these kids it’s their first time here, and we forget that when we’ve been here so many times. It’s just a great experience for them to see where laws are made and to meet the Governor.”

The culmination of the day was when the state officer team met in the rotunda area with Governor Ernie Fletcher.  After a few greetings, Gov. Fletcher made his way to the steps outside the Capitol building to make a proclamation and receive a gift from the officer team.

“It really says a lot when you have people like the Governor and Agriculture Commissioner take time out to recognize 4-H as one of the premiere youth programs in the state, the nation and the world,” Mains added.

The 4Hers are not the only ones who receive benefit from the capitol experience.

“We’ve had a number of senators and representatives today tell us how happy they were to see the 4-Hers here,” Kurth said.  “Some of them were 4-Hers themselves.”

The day ended with optional tours of the Capitol, Kentucky History Center or other governmental agencies and organizations in Frankfort.

Kurth said he wants to see this event continue in future years because it’s a chance to show people what 4-H is doing for Kentucky.


Source: Wendy Stivers, 859-257-5961