S.D. Farmers Union hosts National Farmers Union Education Meeting
HURON — South Dakota Farmers Union recently hosted the National Farmers Union Education Meeting in their state office in Huron.
The two-day conference focused on educational programming topics as well as provided Education Directors from across the nation with an opportunity to share their best practices and discuss ways to overcome challenges.
“We learn a lot from each other,” explained Bonnie Geyer, S.D. Farmers Union Education Director and the event’s coordinator. “Although each of our state education programs is unique, we all share the same focus – which is to provide rural youth with leadership and cooperative educational programming that is fun and captures their attention year after year.”
Geyer explains that exchanging ideas with her peers gets her motivated for the 2015 camp season. Each summer she oversees the organization of more than 56 day camps and three, 3 to 5-day leadership camps, and a State Leadership Camp. More than 2,000 South Dakota rural youth attend these camps.
Serving South Dakota Farmers Union as its Education Director since 1997, Geyer says that although summer youth programs have always been popular, in recent years, enrollment has increased. “It’s mostly word-of-mouth. One kid has a good time and they tell their friends, relatives and neighbors,” Geyer explained. “Farmers Union camp programming works to empower young people to become influential leaders in their home communities. Camp activities encourage them to explore interests and discover their strengths.”
To keep young people returning year-after-year, Geyer said the National Farmers Union provides an excellent curriculum and she works with a team of teens and collegiate interns to help her and the many volunteers from communities across South Dakota plan camp activities and programming that are fresh and new. “Like all camps, we also have plenty of camp traditions,” Geyer said.
Cathy Statz, the Wisconsin Farmers Union Education Director, can relate. Statz, who was among the directors to attend the conference in Huron, attended Farmers Union youth activities and camps from the time she was 6.
She said that along with the fun activities, it was the cooperative philosophy she was taught at Farmers Union camp that kept her involved through her teen years and beyond. “I am not competitive by nature, so the idea of everyone working together and bringing everyone’s skills, interests and talents to the table to make the world a better place, really resonated with me,” said Statz, who interned and worked for both the Wisconsin and National Farmers Union camp programs during college and then moved into her current role after she graduated in 1997.
During the conference, Statz, Geyer and the other education directors visited about ways they can recruit more youth as they age-out of the youth programs to become involved in Farmers Union adult education programs and take on leadership roles.
“Like many multi-generational organizations, we are faced with the challenge of maintaining members through their college and early professional years,” Geyer said. “We often see them return to Farmers Union once they have children of their own, because they want their own children to experience the same benefits they did as campers.”
To learn more about S.D. Farmers Union youth programs, visit www.sdfu.org or contact Geyer at bgeyer@SDFU.org or 605-352-5976 ext. 125.