4-H alumna credits 4-H Capitol Experience for leading to her career choice

Kennedy DeFrancesco
Kennedy DeFrancesco

Alger County Michigan 4-H alumna Kennedy DeFrancesco participated in many state and national 4-H events during her years in 4-H. However, 4-H Capitol Experience was most life-changing, igniting plans for a political science degree and a career in law.

Kennedy DeFrancesco
Kennedy DeFrancesco, Alger County 4-H alumna

Alger County 4-H alumna Kennedy DeFrancesco has served as a Michigan 4-H Foundation youth trustee since January 2020, giving her time as a means of giving back to a program she says gave her so much. As a former member of Michigan State University Extension’s 4-H Youth Development Program, she participated in Alger County’s Munising 4-H Club for eight years in the 4-H project areas of crafts, sewing, scrapbooking, leadership, civic engagement and community service. Through her experiences with 4-H, she developed critical life skills and found a passion for a career path that she is actively pursuing today.

“I am very fortunate that I was able to be involved in 4-H,” DeFrancesco said. “4-H programs create situations in which our youth can be inspired for their futures and provides them the motivation that they have the ability to make a difference.”

Her 4-H experience gave her the courage to stand up for what she believes in and provided her with the skills to be a good and effective leader. DeFrancesco also met people with shared interests who became lifelong friends.

”4-H impacted my life in more ways than I can say. I would not be the person I am today if I had not had the 4-H experience in my life,” she added. “4-H guided me down the path I needed to pursue to achieve my goals.”

According to DeFrancesco, one of the greatest life lessons she learned in 4-H was the importance of community and leadership. 4-H was also one of the first places she felt fully accepted and surrounded by people that genuinely supported her.

“Being able to have the courage to take charge and not be afraid to speak up for what I believed in was instilled in every 4-H member. Through this leadership and sense of a community, I was able to become my own individual and discover different things that interested me, and it is still something I strive for today,” she said.

DeFrancesco worked to develop her leadership skills through statewide events such as 4-H Exploration Days4-H Capitol Experience, the Michigan 4-H State Youth Leadership Council, the Michigan 4-H Youth Leadership and Global Citizen Spectacular, as well as national events like 4-H Citizenship Washington Focus and National 4-H Congress.

“Although I have a countless number of amazing 4-H memories, I would have to say my ultimate favorite would be attending National 4-H Congress. This event was organized so beautifully and was so incredibly fun. All the people in the Michigan group were immediately fast friends, the adult chaperones were the coolest, nicest people. Everything I was able to experience during that event was so fun and educational. I am so grateful that I was able to have such an amazing experience at this particular event. I would encourage any eligible 4-H member to go if they have the opportunity!”

However, DeFrancesco says that 4-H Capitol Experience is the event that ultimately helped her find her career choice. 4-H Capitol Experience is an annual conference that helps prepare youth for active citizenship by focusing on civic engagement and public policy. DeFrancesco was excited that she was able to attend a real-life Supreme Court hearing, watch the proceedings of the Senate or House of Representatives, learn to write bills, and meet with real politicians to talk about the validity of the bills. She also met Gov. Whitmer (a senator at the time) who signed the mock bill presented by 4-H’ers at the event.

“4-H was responsible for my chosen path for my education and career. I attended lots of awesome 4-H events around the United States and had the absolute best time at each one of them, but it wasn’t until one specific program that I realized this is what I needed to be doing in my life: 4-H Capitol Experience, it gives 4-H members a whole governmental experience.”

“This event gave me a real life look at the inside proceedings of our state government,” DeFrancesco stated. “The experience spurred my love for governmental proceedings. I returned home and told my mom that I had decided to go into political science. I now have my bachelor’s in political science and am looking to pursue a career in law. I don’t think I would be on the same path I am today if it weren’t for 4-H!”

Currently working towards a master’s degree in philosophy at Eastern Michigan University, DeFrancesco earned her bachelor’s degree in political science from Ferris State University, where she was a member of the Speech and Debate Team, Model United Nations (UN) Club, and focused on women’s advocacy.

“My 4-H career helped shape the decisions I made for my future. By participating in 4-H programs throughout high school, I discovered a passion for leadership, political science, and the need to help make a difference.”

DeFrancesco continued, “If you are thinking about joining 4-H, please do it. You will meet so many amazing people, get to experience so many different incredible opportunities, and be a part of an amazing community who will support you continuously.”

“4-H has enhanced my life in so many ways and continues to do so. I am so grateful for being a part of this community. I can honestly say that it has changed my life for the better, therefore I am confident it will positively change others.”

To learn more about becoming involved with Michigan 4-H as a youth member or adult volunteer, visit the Michigan 4-H website.

Domonique Clemons

A dream fulfilled: 4-H participation as a youth was the catalyst for a career in government.

When high school sophomore Domonique Clemons job shadowed 4th District County Commissioner John Northrup during the  Genesee County 4-H Citizenship Academy, he had no idea he would be elected as a county commissioner in the exact same seat as Commissioner Northrup, 10 years later. Yet it was that experience that helped to light the spark for Clemons’ future educational and career choices.

“My 4-H involvement instilled in me that everyone can have an impact on government on all levels, regardless of age or background,” said Clemons.

As a youth, Clemons, a Michigan 4-H alumnus from Flint and 2018 Michigan 4-H Emerald Clover Society inductee, spent three years in Michigan State University Extension programs like 4-H Capitol Experience and  the Genesee County 4-H Citizenship Academy. He then worked for 4-H for five years, serving as a student assistant for 4-H leadership and civic engagement while attending MSU to obtain a bachelor’s degree in public policy. Clemons credits these 4-H experiences for helping to develop the foundation for his current career in local government.

“4-H was not only a program that I was able to learn about different things, and meet new friends, but it also was very important in my development,” said Clemons. “It was my participation in 4-H that taught me important skills like communication, leadership, organizational skills, how to use Robert’s Rules of Order, how to shake hands with someone, and how to be an active citizen in my community. Many of these skills I still use today. 4-H provided a foundation for my leadership development and gave me the opportunity to sharpen my skills and put them to use as a youth participant as well as a student assistant on staff.”

After graduating from MSU, Clemons went on to obtain a master’s degree in political management from George Washington University before starting his political career in 2019 as the legislative director for State Representative Alex Garza (D-Taylor). Since then, his roles have grown to include treasurer for both the Genesee County Democratic Party and Young Democrats of Genesee County, as well as becoming the executive director of the Genesee County Leadership Corps. In November 2020, he was elected to the position of 4th District Genesee County Commissioner and after taking office in January 2021, he was elected vice-chairman of the board and chair of the Public Works Committee.

Despite his busy schedule, Clemons continues his involvement with 4-H today as a volunteer, supporting the 4-H Capitol Experience as a guest speaker and for several years as a judge for the Michigan 4-H State Awards Program. He encourages others to join the 4-H program as well, to help explore their own interests and build the foundation for their future.

“4-H is a great resource for young folks to learn skills, make new friends, and explore career options,” said Clemons. “Often, 4-H is seen as something that is only for kids interested in farming and animals, but that is certainly not the case. 4-H has so many programs and resources for everyone. As a student who grew up in an urban setting, 4-H had a huge impact on me, and I would highly encourage inner city and urban students to get just as involved with 4-H.”

To learn more about Michigan 4-H as a youth member or volunteer, visit 4h.msue.msu.edu.

After graduating from Central Michigan University in spring 2021, Mecosta County 4-H alum Kiara Cushway sent a follow-up letter thanking Mecosta County 4-H once again for her 4-H scholarship, citing 4-H for helping in her educational and career choices.


By Abbey Miller

Mecosta County 4-H alumna Kiara Cushway was involved in Michigan 4-H, Michigan State University Extension’s youth development program, for 14 years. She started out as a member of Big Rapids Community Club and spent most of her 4-H career as a member of Grant Center Pioneers 4-H Club.

“4-H was one of the most memorable experiences I had growing up and played a large role in shaping me to become who I am today,” Cushway said. “The life lessons I learned and the skills and friendships I gained during 4-H, as well as the connections I forged with my animals, have meant a lot to me and have helped foster my passion and love for animals and nature.”

Cushway participated in a variety of 4-H project areas, including turkeys, pigs, ducks, arts and crafts, flower arranging and basketry, among other things. She attended the Mecosta County 4-H Camp as a child, and was a 4-H camp counselor.

“4-H helped foster my love for learning and taught me many valuable skills that helped me succeed in school and as a developing member of my community,” she said. “4-H also provided me with mentors who were invested in my success and who believed in my abilities and were willing to help me grow and learn. As a young person, these relationships and opportunities meant the world to me and helped me grow into the person I am today.”

She continued, “When I was young, pledging my head to clearer thinking, my heart to greater loyalty, my hands to larger service and my health to better living may have just been words that were spoken at meetings or before shows. But as I have grown and developed, they have become a mantra that I strive to live by. The meaning behind these words and the actions required by them encourage me to use the lessons I have learned in 4-H to work towards making the world a better place in whatever ways I can.”

After graduating from Big Rapids High School, Cushway received the 2017 Mecosta County 4-H Scholarship from the Mecosta County Fair Board that she applied towards her post-secondary education at Central Michigan University (CMU). During her undergraduate years, she had the opportunity to study abroad and complete a variety of research projects. She earned a bachelor’s degree in biology in spring 2021.

Ever grateful for the foundation the 4-H program provided her and for the financial support of the scholarship, Cushway sent a follow-up letter thanking the Mecosta County 4-H community after her graduation.

“I am very thankful for the support of Mecosta County 4-H and its investment in my future,” wrote Cushway. “I would not have had the flexibility and opportunity I did without the support I had from groups like yours. I am also very thankful for the experiences, lessons learned, friends made and skills that I acquired during my 4-H years participating in the Mecosta County 4-H program. The memories I have from 4-H are some of the best I have, and 4-H was an integral part of the foundation of my educational and life success!”

Cushway also shared some of the highlights of her college experience at CMU. This included a faculty-led study abroad in New Zealand and a semester abroad in Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands where she studied tropical ecology in the rainforests of the Amazon, island biogeography in the famed Galapagos Archipelago and marine ecology in the Pacific Ocean. Cushway was also engaged in a CMU research lab that was focused on native freshwater mussels. Through the lab, Cushway conducted her own research in Michigan rivers, presented at local, state and national and international conferences, and submitted her work for publication. Cushway’s prestigious efforts at CMU were honored with the 2021 CMU Provost’s Award, a group of awards given to only 10 outstanding undergraduate students.

With her undergraduate work complete, Cushway plans to continue her education at Texas State University where she has obtained a fully funded graduate assistantship and she will pursue a master’s degree in aquatic resources. Cushway credits 4-H for helping to shape both her educational and career choices.

“When I graduated high school, I was unsure about what I might want to pursue, but because of 4-H, I knew that I loved working with nature and animals. When I found the biology program and the scientific research that I eventually became involved in, it felt natural to fall into a path that involved animals and conservation. My experiences with 4-H left me very well prepared for both working with and caring for animals in a research setting and designing and conducting scientific research. The love that I have for animals and science that 4-H fostered within me became one of the driving forces behind my post-secondary education, and the feeling of being a part of something bigger and better than yourself that came with being a part of 4-H is something I strive for as a student and a future career professional.”

Beyond helping set her down her current path in life, Cushway also thanks 4-H for helping to develop life skills that benefit her personally and professionally.

“The life lessons that I gained through 4-H have been both multitudinous and indispensable. Caring for my animal projects taught me responsibility and dependability and helped me develop a strong work ethic. Completing record books for my market animals taught me how to conduct basic research and balance and calculate budgets. Working with other 4-H members and clubs taught me collaboration and how to be an effective member of a team. Working with animals also taught me that practice, patience and preparedness can take you far in life, but that it is also important to be willing to be flexible and adapt to situations when things don’t go as planned.”

When asked one of her most memorable 4-H experiences, Cushway recalled one of her first times showing chickens, at 5 or 6 years old as a Cloverbud, a 4-H program for 5- to 7-year-olds. She was very shy and terrified to participate in showmanship. Her parents and sisters had practiced with her to prepare, and she knew exactly what to do, but froze in front of the judge.

“I probably would have quit then and there,” she said. “But, an older girl came up and helped me walk through the showmanship. Her encouragement gave me the confidence to finish the show, and her willingness to help a little kid she didn’t even know has stuck with me, and I think this really embodies what it means to be a 4-H’er.”

Cushway highly recommends 4-H to everyone, she says. “The life lessons I learned and the friendships and skills I developed during my years in 4-H are invaluable to me and have helped me in almost every aspect of my life. The memories I have of 4-H will always be dear to me, and the experiences, connections and opportunities that I had are something that I hope all children could have access to during their formative years and as they are growing to become a part of our local and global communities.”

To learn more about becoming involved with Michigan 4-H as a youth member or adult volunteer, visit the Michigan 4-H website.

Photo of the five Pollard brothers standing infront of the Pollard Dairy barn.

Richard J. Pollard established the Dickinson County 4-H Endowment

Richard Pollard holding a Dahlia flower.

Richard J. Pollard

At 97 years old, Richard J. Pollard has created the Richard J. Pollard Dickinson County 4-H Endowment to support his local county program, Dickinson County, Mich., as he is grateful to 4-H for encouraging him to reach his potential.

Pollard was raised on a depression-era farm in Dickinson County where he was an active 4-H member. To this day, he recalls how much his 4-H leader impacted his life, teaching both he – and his fellow club members – about banking. He didn’t have money to open a bank account, so she gave him one dollar. He later paid her back. His 4-H leader also encouraged him to pursue a career.

Photo of the five Pollard brothers standing infront of the Pollard Dairy barn.

Pictured above is Richard Pollard (far right) and his younger brothers. This photo was taken in 1938 by his 4-H leader, Miss Lillian Solomonson, when she came to inspect his 4-H garden. It was taken at Pollard Dairy in Norway, Mich.

Pollard studied at Albion College, joined the navy in WWII, and later became a doctor. He was grateful to the navy and rejoined during the Korean War. After the war, he practiced medicine in Detroit, all while remaining active in the naval reserves until his early 60s.

The Dickinson County 4-H Endowment will provide an annual source of unrestricted revenue for Dickinson County 4-H. Funds may support everything from special 4-H projects, to sponsorships for 4-H learning experiences, trips and events.

“The Dickinson County 4-H Program is so thankful for Mr. Pollard’s generous commitment to building a stronger future for 4-H youth,” said Jessica Coron, MSU Extension 4-H program coordinator in Dickinson County. “His contribution will be a vital source of continued support for our local 4-H program. This gift will provide further educational opportunities and scholarships for 4-H youth in our community.  Additionally, it has the potential to enhance our current 4-H program. His support is greatly appreciated.”

An endowment is a fund that is permanently restricted – the corpus of the fund is invested and held intact, and the earnings from the fund are used for program support. Endowments provide a dependable and perpetual source of funding that, combined with other annual support, can help ensure that 4-H opportunities are available for all youth, especially those with financial barriers. To learn more about 4-H endowments, visit mi4hfdtn.org/endowments.

Earl and Suzanne Threadgould

In 2016, Suzanne Threadgould created an endowment in honor of her husband’s life and career with Michigan 4-H. Recently, she made an IRA charitable required minimum distribution gift to grow the fund, increasing the impact for generations to come.

Earl and Suzanne Threadgould with a table of vegetables.
Earl and Suzanne Threadgould

Suzanne Threadgould established the Earl W. and Suzanne Threadgould Endowment for Ingham County 4-H with the Michigan 4-H Foundation in 2016 to honor her husband’s life and career with Michigan 4-H. Late last year, Suzanne expanded her gift, increasing the many ways the fund will benefit Ingham County 4-H’ers for years to come.

“My husband had been a 4-H youth agent at one time, and we were always involved with 4-H,” Suzanne Threadgould said. “4-H is so good for kids. I think it’s important for kids to get involved in 4-H.”

An endowment is a fund that is permanently restricted — the corpus of the fund is invested and held intact, and the earnings from the fund are used to support the 4-H program each year. Endowments provide a dependable and perpetual source of funding that, combined with other annual support, ensures that 4-H opportunities are always available for youth.

The Threadgould endowment provides annual support for Ingham County 4-H youth leadership and recognition. The fund may also be used to support out-of-county 4-H experiences for youth and to encourage and recognize 4-H youth engagement and leadership in Ingham County.

“I decided now would be the time to do it,” said Suzanne. “My husband always wanted to give back to 4-H.”

Earl was a long-time Wayne County 4-H member and earned his bachelor’s degree from the Michigan State University College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. After college, he served in the Peace Corps, traveling to El Salvador to work with the Central American 4C program, the sister program to 4-H. Earl and Suzanne met and were married while serving in El Salvador. They returned to Michigan and Earl pursued a master’s degree, while Suzanne went back to earn her education degree, both from MSU.

Earl continued his service to 4-H by becoming a 4-H youth agent with MSU Extension in Ingham County for 25 years. He also served as president of the Michigan Association of Extension 4-H Youth Staff and helped facilitate hosting the National Association of 4-H Youth Agents Conference in Michigan in 1996. Earl was an avid gardener and market master of the Meridian Township Farmers Market for over 20 years. The Threadgoulds were well-known for Threadgould’s farm-fresh vegetables, flowers and herbs.

Suzanne taught elementary school in Mason and Holt, Mich. mostly as a substitute teacher, but had a few longer-term positions over the years. She enjoyed working with children, and as such served for many years as the administrative 4-H volunteer leader of the East Alaiedon 4-H Club in Ingham County. The club boasted well over 50 members at times, including the Threadgould’s children, and 15 volunteer project leaders.

“We did conservation, entomology — my son was very into entomology at the time — as well as flowers and vegetables,” she recalled. “My daughter did sewing, although I didn’t lead it … I was the administrative leader for quite a while.”

“We had 50-60 4-H club members at one point. We always met at the Alaiedon Township Hall. It was a great place to meet. Our members exhibited their projects at the Ingham County Fair.”

After Earl passed away in 2011, Suzanne created the Earl Threadgould 4-H Scholarship Award in his memory with annual gifts. This award provides an annual post-secondary education scholarship to an Ingham County 4-H youth.

“Earl was very passionate about the 4-H youth in Ingham County,” said Glenda Weiss, Ingham County MSU Extension 4-H program coordinator. “Growing up in the 4-H program, I remember the encouragement he gave to strive toward goals such as state awards. This scholarship allows our current 4-H members to continue to reach their goals for their future.”

By creating the Threadgould endowment five years ago, Suzanne has ensured an annual source of income for the Threadgould Award and other support for Ingham County 4-H for generations to come.

Suzanne decided to increase her investment in Ingham County 4-H by growing the Threadgould endowment with an additional gift in December. She opted to make this additional investment through an IRA charitable required minimum distribution (RMD) gift, commonly called the IRA charitable rollover. This type of gift allows donors aged 70½ or older to donate to charity each year by transferring an amount directly from an IRA to a charity, such as the Michigan 4-H Foundation, and thereby reducing their taxable income for the current tax year.

“I needed to give some money away and it was to my advantage to make the gift,” said Suzanne. “I might even decide to do it again.”

Now by investing in, and growing the Threadgould endowment, Suzanne has ensured the fund will continue to have an impact on many generations of Ingham County 4-H youth. To date, 11 Ingham County 4-H youth have received the Threadgould Scholarship to pursue post-secondary education.

Learn more about giving to 4-Hendowments and IRA charitable rollover gifts.