National 4-H Conference a learning experience

Farm Forum

For 16-year-old Rolla High School sophomore Billie Lentz, attending the National 4-H Conference in Chevy Chase, Md., this spring was an incredible learning experience.

“National 4-H Conference gave me the opportunity to meet teens from across the nation who not only shared a passion for 4-H, but also my other interests, like agriculture,” says Lentz, who has been a 4-H member since the fifth grade. “I made amazing memories.”

While at the conference, she also was able to share her enthusiasm for agriculture with national policymakers. Lentz and 17 other teens from across the U.S. gave a presentation to the U.S. House Committee on Agriculture on the importance of agriculture.

Lentz was one of four North Dakota 4-H’ers selected to attend the 2016 conference. The others were Colton Christmann of Kindred, Emily Joerger of Mayville and Kaitlyn Nelson of Grafton.

The National 4-H Conference is the premier civic engagement opportunity for 4-H members who are 15 to 19 years old. It began in 1927 as the National 4-H Club Camp, and delegates slept in tents on the National Mall grounds in front of the Department of Agriculture building in Washington, D.C. It has been held annually except during World War II.

It was renamed the National 4-H Conference in 1958, and in 1959, it moved to the newly founded National 4-H Center in Chevy Chase, which is just outside Washington, D.C.

Delegates participate in round-table discussions, attend workshops on improving their civic engagement knowledge and skills, and visit federal agencies and their state’s congressional delegation. As part of their round-table sessions, the youth identify and develop their perspective on a topic through research and deliberation, and develop a briefing on the topic, which they present to a federal agency with interest in that topic.

“National 4-H Conference 2016 was a blast,” Joerger says. “The trip taught me how to use leadership and communication skills in 4-H and in daily life by helping to raise awareness for the opportunities open to older 4-H’ers and by empowering me to grow my level of communication with those around me.” Ron Wiederholt, who chaperoned the North Dakota delegates, was very impressed with them.

“It was refreshing to see how engaged all the youth were,” says Wiederholt, the North Dakota State University Extension Service’s Southeast District director. “They certainly were not afraid to take on the challenges presented, and they learned some great lessons about civic engagement that will stick with them for the rest of their lives.”

Trips to the National 4-H Conference and National 4-H Congress in Atlanta, Ga., are some of the best opportunities 4-H offers for teens, according to Lentz, and she encourages other youth to give 4-H a try.

“4-H is a common thread that connects 6 million youth across the U.S. by teaching them leadership skills, public speaking and interview skills, the importance of volunteering and much more,” she adds. “4-H has shaped me into the person I am today.”