April 4, 2008

In the five years since its inception, 4-H: A Capitol Experience has introduced thousands of Kentucky’s youth to the inner workings of state government. This year was no different as approximately 1,000 4-H’ers, representing 60 counties, got a chance to meet and speak with their state legislators, observe committee meetings and tour the Capitol and other historic buildings.

The event was developed by Paula Tarry, Barren County 4H Youth development agent with the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service. In its first year, 300 youth participated. The next two years, the number of participants doubled. During the past couple of years, the numbers have remained steady at about 1,000 youth. As the program has grown, Tarry said she is astounded by the number of youth, agents and adult volunteers that continue to make the trip to the Capitol an annual event.

“We knew that there was a large interest for our youth to get a chance to come to the state Capitol,” she said. “We didn’t expect this many youth to continue to come year after year. We’re really excited about it.”

Tarry said the goal of the event was to develop citizenship and leadership skills in youth, while helping them gain interest in issues and laws that affect their communities.

“Our mission is to make them contributing members to our societies and communities,” she said.

Over the years, she has received positive feedback from many 4-H’ers. Several youth have told her they developed an interest for government and careers in government after participating in Capitol Experience.

State 4-H Vice President Jonathan Carman has always been interested in government, but he said 4-H has changed the way he views his leadership abilities. He hopes to have a future career that involves working on election campaigns as either a chief of staff or campaign manager. Carman said he already has been active on several campaigns, and while this was his first Capitol Experience, he has been to the Capitol on numerous occasions. He said the event helps build youth’s awareness of state government.

“I think Capitol Experience is very important because you can read charts and see stuff, but until you come and visit the Capitol, it’s really hard to have a concept for how big everything is, and the scope of exactly what happens here, and just how things work day in and day out,” he said.

Not only is Capitol Experience a positive experience for youth, but it’s also a treat for many lawmakers. State Sen. Joey Pendleton of Hopkinsville is a lifelong 4-H’er and recognized the 4-H state officers and the organization on the Senate floor during Capitol Experience.

“I tell people all the time that if it wasn’t for 4-H, I don’t believe I would be in the state Senate today,” he said. “It gave me experience in demonstrations and speeches, and being around other people, and how to deal with people. It’s just a great, great program. I’m glad to say now that my children were in 4-H, and now I’m getting my grandchildren in 4-H. It’s been great for our family.”

This year 4-H partnered with the Kentucky Association of Electric Cooperatives to make the event possible.

“We can think of no better way to invest our dollars than assisting these young people in learning about their government and building experiences that will make them better citizens,” said Dennis Cannon, KAEC vice president of member and public relations.

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