March 15, 2006 | By: Carol Lea Spence
Frankfort, Ky.

They arrived in school buses, vans and cars. They came from Ballard County, from Johnson, from Boone and Monroe and 60 other counties in between. More than 1,500 strong, their excitement echoing through the marble halls of the Capitol, 4-H members, volunteers, and Extension personnel recently converged on the Kentucky General Assembly.

“4-H: A Capitol Experience” is a program designed to raise awareness of the legislative process. The annual event, which has doubled in size every year since its inception in 2004, brings together 4-H’ers and legislators, many of whom are former 4-H members themselves.

The program is the brainchild of Paula Tarry, University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service 4-H youth development agent in Barren County. Realizing that many school systems had cut back on their field trips to Frankfort, Tarry saw the need for a program that would introduce youth and volunteers to “what’s going on in our state capital.” She also believed there was a need “for legislators to know the importance of 4-H.”

Mark Mains, Extension associate for 4-H youth development, saw the day as an opportunity to educate youth and legislators both.

“The primary goal is for our kids to come here and leave with a better understanding of their Kentucky government,” he said, “but it helps a lot that our representatives and elected officials see how important 4-H is in the commonwealth of Kentucky and how many people are involved.”

Mains said that uncertain budget times are part of the reason 4-H agents have stood behind the event. “Nothing speaks louder about the benefits of a program than 50 or 100 or 1,500 of the kids who benefit from that program.”

State Rep. Don Pasley noted the importance of 4-H’s yearly visit. “It shows legislators, both urban and rural, how important 4-H is to the state. It’s great to have them also here during the legislative session.”

State Sen. Ernie Harris agreed. “There are many good youth programs, but 4-H is one of the best and it’s good for us to touch base with them and see how many people are involved.”

Tarry said the young people who participate will go home knowing “that they are an important part of our Kentucky government; that their vote does count and whenever they get to the age of 18, they’ll be able to go and register to vote.”

The day’s agenda varied for each group involved, with some viewing Senate and House sessions, some hearing from Stan Cave, the governor’s chief of staff, and others getting the opportunity to meet with their district’s senator or representative for pictures and questions.

State Sen. Joey Pendleton is one of the legislators who looks forward to visiting with the young people. “It’s always good to see (the 4-H’ers) when they come in, fill your room up and get to answer their questions, because they have a lot of in-depth questions. ‘What are you doing for the youth? Are we going to expand our county fair program?’ Lot of things in the department of agriculture that they’re concerned about,” he said.

Many of the legislators were impressed with the quality of questions they received from the young people.

“They were very astute,” said State Rep. Mike Cherry after meeting with groups from his district. “I’ve found the 4-H’ers are more involved in the community, probably, than perhaps the average person. And that works its way into being a comment about the value of 4-H.”

Many legislators can relate to the visiting young people because they’ve often traveled the same route themselves.

“I’ve said this many times when I speak to 4-H groups,” said State Rep. James Comer. “I would not be in the General Assembly today if not for the experiences I gained in 4-H.”

It was a memorable experience for many who were involved – 4-H’ers, volunteers, and legislators alike.

“For a lot of our kids, they’ve never been to the Capitol before,” said Mains. “They don’t appreciate it until they can come here and see the concrete, the building, the marble, that represents the founding of our commonwealth. When they leave this a lot of them are interested in political careers. They leave with a sense of civic engagement that I think a lot of times they didn’t have before.”

Tarry related a conversation she had with a 4-H volunteer who was visiting the state capital for the first time.

“He didn’t want the same thing to happen to his children. He wanted them to know early what our state capital was about, what our state government was about and how valuable all of this history was that he had missed all these years,” she said.

When 4-H’ers walked through the halls of the Capitol, many people saw the future walk in with them.

“I think agriculture and 4-H, the leadership that these young people bring, are going to play a crucial role in the future of the state as far as what happens in the rural parts of the commonwealth,” said State Sen. Richie Sanders

“I can see a lot of future leaders in those groups,” Comer said.

Tarry thinks he may be right. “Many of them do want to be our future representatives and senators and some of them want to be governor.”



Paula Tarry, (270) 651-3818