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.

Smoothie planters in the garden

Smoothie planters in the garden

Many of us likely recall being told that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. To highlight the importance of starting the day off right, the Michigan 4-H Children’s Garden now features a theme garden dedicated entirely to the first meal of the day.

The Breakfast Garden features plants that go into making our breakfasts, including a coffee plant, pomegranate, orange, maple, pancake, tomatoes, peppers and chives. In addition, four smoothie planters were added which feature some of the popular smoothie flavors including: a tropical smoothie, strawberry-banana smoothie, green smoothie and smoothie grains.

“We had a Cereal Bowl Garden and the space next to it has traditionally been planted in a fall perennial aster that was not very exciting,” explained Norm Lownds, Michigan 4-H Children’s Gardens curator. “As we were working in the garden we started talking about what to plant in that area and decided that we could expand beyond the cereal bowl to the entire breakfast. It then only took us a few minutes to come up with a list of possible plants. Once we were that far we had to do it.”

The smoothie planters were a donation from Earth Box many years ago, however the Breakfast Garden is in need of a sponsor. If interested in sponsoring this garden, contact greenca5@msu.edu.

In addition, a few updates and restorations were also completed in the Michigan 4-H Children’s Gardens over the summer bringing the garden to its natural splendor.

The planter boxes were replaced and a self-portrait station was added to the Sunshine Garden Gallery wall. The gate to Bogue Street, the benches in the Friends Terrace and the spitting frogs gate were all repainted.

As part of one of the National Science Foundation (NSF) grants garden staff are collaborating on, a Smell Scavenger Hunt has been added through the garden. It has been very popular and is getting more and more visitors to stop and smell the flowers (and the leaves). In addition, more QR codes will be added to the signs so that visitors can discover even more information if they are interested.

Over the summer the family programs had a different emphasis each month with activity bags given out to visitors, a StoryWalk book that connected to each theme and additional online materials, information, and activities. These self-guided programs have worked well and have been very well-received by 4-H Children’s Gardens visitors.

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.

Change Makers from Alpena

In northeastern Michigan, the fight against microplastics in the Great Lakes is being championed by the Alpena 4-H Tech Changemakers.

Change Makers from Alpena

In northeast Michigan, the fight against microplastics in the Great
Lakes is being championed by the Alpena 4-H Tech Changemakers
thanks to a partnership between Microsoft and National 4-H Council.

In this era of beach clean-ups, plastic bag bans and plastic eating bacteria, it seems like everyone is trying to answer the question: How do we “turn off the tap” on plastic pollution in our bodies of water? We’ve heard from legislators, scientists, environmentalists and surfers, but perhaps the greatest voice in the fight against single-use plastics, also called microplastics, is that of our youth.

In northeastern Michigan, the fight against microplastics in the Great Lakes is being championed by the Alpena 4-H Tech Changemakers. The 4-H Tech Changemakers, a Michigan 4-H program of MSU Extension, is turning the tide on single-use plastics in Michigan through conversation and education.

The 4-H Tech Changemakers project is made possible by a partnership between Microsoft and National 4-H Council through the Michigan 4-H Foundation. This partnership provided grants for local 4-H programs to empower youth to address community issues through technology. As a result, youth develop valuable leadership skills, make strong community connections and prepare themselves for a lifetime of making positive change.

Alpena is just one of the 91 communities across 15 states with 4-H Tech Changemakers teams, all of whom are finding technological solutions to local challenges. In Alpena, youth decided to address a community issue that was very close to home: the protection of the Great Lakes.

Since their home is nestled on the shores of beautiful Lake Huron, the residents of Alpena have a special and direct connection with the Great Lakes. However, it turns out that not everyone is aware of the negative effect that their connections may have on the lakes themselves.

Through a series of educational presentations to community groups like the Alpena Rotary Club, Kiwanis Club and the Alpena Community College Association of Lifelong Learners, 4-H youth have started some important conversations. In the presentations, youth educate community members about the sources of microplastics, the harm they present to wildlife and human health, and solutions to the problem on individual, community and national levels.

The youth also engage in community service through cleaning up beaches and volunteering at community events to promote waste-reducing practices. In addition, the youth used their tech literacy to design a website dedicated to marine debris education, with resources specific to the Great Lakes region.

As a result of their hard work, there have been great changes in the approaches of the Alpena community. Businesses and organizations contact the 4-H Tech Changemakers, seeking their wisdom and guidance in reducing their organizational waste. Currently, the youth are partnering with a local theater to implement new recycling and compost bins, bulk candy counters, and a “bring your own container program” for popcorn and soda. The Friends of the Alpena Farmers Market have also been inspired by the youth to write a grant for reusable bags. Throughout the city, the 4-H Tech Changemakers are helping Alpena residents chart the course for a healthier Great Lakes region.

Midland County 4-H volunteer Ervin Currie II, of Midland, was elected to the Michigan 4-H Foundation board of trustees at its April board meeting.

Ervin Currie II

Ervin Currie II

Trustees are volunteers who manage foundation policies and operations, and are community advocates for ongoing and increasing support for 4-H. They are also charged with overseeing the activities of foundation staff members and working on committees to facilitate foundation operations.

Currie is a project manager for Dow Inc. with a primary focus on IT infrastructure projects. He is responsible for project planning and management throughout the project lifecycle and accountable for budget, contingency, scope, as well as issue and risk management. He also facilitates the Agile training for the company’s project management office. He has spent the last 22 years supporting the success of the company in multiple IT leadership positions which included short assignments in Freeport, Texas, Philadelphia, Brazil, and India.

Currie’s four young boys all participate in a multitude of sports and 4-H activities. They are all current members of both Gray and Northern Dreamers 4-H clubs in Midland County where Currie is an active adult leader. He is the current vice president of the Midland County 4-H Council and has been an active council member since 2018. He is a certified archery instructor through the 4-H Shooting Sports Program and uses his knowledge to conduct the archery activities at the weeklong Camp Neyati program for the Midland County 4-H youth.

As an avid gardener, livestock farmer, outdoor sportsman and entrepreneur, Currie took his passion to the next level and launched Open Season Coffee. The company spends a portion of the proceeds on youth hunter safety programs and wildlife habitat improvements.

Currie received an honorable discharge from the U.S. Marine Corps and earned both an associate’s degree in science from Delta Community College and a bachelor’s degree in general studies with a focus on project and business management from Baker College.

One of the country’s largest multi-day 4-H events, 4-H Exploration Days returned for its 51st year in June 2022. A new endowment created by Donald and Linda Eppelheimer will provide 4-H Exploration Days with perpetual funding for years to come.

Group of 4-H'ers at the 2022 4-H Exploration Days event in a residence hall at Michigan State University.

Each summer, many Michigan 4-H’ers look forward to 4-H Exploration Days, a three-day precollege program held on the campus of Michigan State University (MSU). One of the country’s largest multi-day 4-H youth events, 4-H Exploration Days returned for its 51st year from June 22-24, 2022, after a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic.

“We were so excited to be able to offer 4-H Exploration Days back on campus once again this year,” said Julie Chapin, Ph.D., state 4-H leader and director of MSU Extension’s Children and Youth Institute. “As one of our signature statewide 4-H programs, youth are able to explore their future, try new things and experience college life while gaining confidence and independence through hands-on learning and making friends for a lifetime.”

David Eppelheimer

To ensure there is perpetual support for future generations of Michigan 4-H youth to experience this signature 4-H event, Donald and Linda Eppelheimer, of Crossville, Tennessee, established the David Eppelheimer 4-H Exploration Days Fund. The endowment is in memory of Donald’s brother, David Eppelheimer, who served as a volunteer in the 4-H Exploration Days headquarters for more than 15 years. David also attended 4-H Exploration Days nearly every year — either as a participant, chaperone, conference assistant or headquarters staff member — until his death in 2017.

“It is important that we continue to support programs that test the mettle of tomorrow’s leaders. 4-H Exploration Days might be the first step in that direction and is worthy of our support,” said Don Eppelheimer. “We all strive and hope that Exploration Days has distilled and combined the best of this array of earlier programs.”

“It is important that we continue to support programs that test the mettle of tomorrow’s leaders. 4-H Exploration Days might be the first step in that direction and is worthy of our support.”DONALD EPPELHEIMER

The Eppelheimers were active 4-H’ers in their youth, first as members of the Branch County Blue Ribbon 4-H Club led by Dale and Elizabeth AcMoody. They then relocated to Newaygo County where they were involved with the Lucky 4-H Club led by Mrs. Don Brink and their mother, Phyllis Eppelheimer, and the Hexapoda 4-H Club, also led by their mother. Their father, Marvin Eppelheimer, was a 4-H youth agent in Eaton, Branch and Newaygo counties until his retirement in 1976.

“When your father is a 4-H youth agent and your mother is a 4-H club leader and the nature program director at 4-H camp, you’re sort of in it,” Don said.

He recalls growing up in a 4-H family of three boys (Donald, David and Chad), “One bedroom had an observation hive with live honeybees, one bedroom had a terrarium with Brazilian cockroaches and the last bedroom was a rodent zoo.”

“As a family, we enjoyed nature and 4-H was an avenue to share that experience with others. I recall midnight stakeouts at Newaygo County’s only willow prairie hunting for Luna moths, farm visits to weigh-in cattle for a weight gain project and much more,” he said.

The Eppelheimers often attended 4-H camp, the State 4-H Show and Youth Week.

“A common thread through all three is team building,” Don said. “Hearing someone else’s views on life events is intriguing. Learning to compose and express how you perceive past or future events is a preliminary step to leadership, or at a minimum, compassion for others.”

“4-H activities help build self-awareness and confidence.”

“4-H activities help build self-awareness and confidence.”DONALD EPPELHEIMER

As a teen, David founded an entomology club for the youth too young to join 4-H (now called Cloverbuds). He also participated in a statewide insect collection and pest identification project with Michigan State University. By using a circular black light and a fan trap, flying nighttime insects were captured and sent weekly to MSU entomologists. A weekly newsletter would alert fruit growers and crop farmers of an outbreak of insect pests.

Following his years as a 4-H youth member, David continued his 4-H involvement as an active 4-H volunteer for more than 25 years, contributing to county, state and national 4-H programs. He served as a 4-H volunteer leader in Ottawa County, an adviser to the Kent County 4-H Teen Club for seven years and served as the Kent County 4-H Council president. He also co-chaired the planning committee for the 1986 4-H North Central Regional Leaders’ Forum in Michigan and served on the statewide 4-H entomology developmental committee.

In 2004, David was honored for his 4-H service as a member of the 4-H Emerald Clover Society, the Michigan 4-H alumni hall of fame.

For this honor, David shared how his 4-H involvement contributed to his professional and personal success:

“Whether it is my career or my avocations, I have always responded to an urge to contribute my time, talents and resources. I know this is the fruit of the volunteer ethic I learned through 4-H…I firmly believe I learned how to be an effective classroom leader through 4-H teen leadership, camp counseling and state-level 4-H events. 4-H was the laboratory where I perfected my interpersonal skills and time management skills. It is also where I learned to be a compassionate citizen and to value diversity. 4-H was my classroom for learning to set and achieve goals. My achievements in 4-H established a solid sense of self-worth and potential that has never left me,” David Eppelheimer wrote.

David enjoyed teaching and working with youth so much that he became a kindergarten teacher for Coopersville Area Public Schools. He graduated from MSU with a bachelor’s degree in elementary education in 1976 and a master’s degree in 1984. He also taught in Guatemala, Belize and the Dominican Republic for two years before teaching at Coopersville. In addition to his distinguished teaching career, he was internationally known for his expertise in Christmas antiques. As a partner in the Elves Antiques business in Grand Rapids, he has been featured in Better Homes and Gardens, Country Living, Victoria magazine and the Grand Rapids Press. He was also a guest on “Martha Stewart Living” and spoke on his success as an entrepreneur at the Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership conference in 1998. Additionally, he served 10 years on the board of directors and as editor of “Golden Glow of Christmas Past,” the international association of antique Christmas ornaments and decorations. He was also a strong community servant. His historic home was featured for the Heritage Hill Homes Tour in Grand Rapids, and he was a Children in Worship Leader for the Westminster Presbyterian Church.

Non-livestock participants hold up their ribbons in front of the 2021 Barry County Fair sign.

After COVID-19 restrictions limited participation in 2020, Michigan 4-H’ers are excited to be back at county fairs again in 2021.

Non-livestock participants hold up their ribbons in front of the 2021 Barry County Fair sign.
Non-livestock participants hold up their ribbons in front of the 2021 Barry County Fair sign.

Across the state, one of the sure signs of summer is the county fair. Whether you’re there for a sweet treat or fried food, a whirling ride or a chance to win a giant prize, the fair is a favorite summer pastime in communities throughout Michigan. But for thousands of young people in Michigan, the fair is more than just a pastime, it’s the best week of the year, which meant no one was more excited than Michigan 4-H members, families, and staff members to rejoin the fair fun in 2021.

“After a tumultuous year, it was great to see 4-H youth enjoying the fair again this summer,” said Jake DeDecker, state leader for Michigan 4-H. “As long-time partners with fairs across the state, Michigan 4-H professionals were as excited as youth to be back enjoying it, too.”

Although most Michigan fairs are independently operated by agricultural societies, fair boards or fair managers, Michigan 4-H has long supported youth programming at fairs. As the youth development program of Michigan State University Extension, Michigan 4-H partners with local fairs to deliver 4-H classes and other youth experiences.

“Our fair partnerships across the state are some of our longest standing,” continued DeDecker. “For many people, 4-H and fairs go hand-in-hand and we’re happy to be a part of such a beloved local tradition.”

Though fair participation is not a requirement of 4-H involvement and not every 4-H’er attends their county fair, local fairs play large roles in the lives of many Michigan 4-H youth. For them, the fair is the culmination of a year’s work on their 4-H project. A year in which they learned to raise and train an animal, create a still-life project, become an entrepreneur or grow a plant — and advance their knowledge and skills in many ways.

barry county fair 4

“Fairs are one of the ways 4-H’ers can showcase their mastery of the skills they learned through 4-H,” explained DeDecker. “It’s the icing on the life-skills cake, so to speak. And it’s a lot of fun!”

In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic led to the cancellation of many local fairs. MSU Extension helped to provide online forums for 4-H youth to receive constructive feedback and be recognized for their accomplishments through 4-H virtual showcases and auctions. While rewarding, the online experiences weren’t the same as in-person fairs and many 4-H’ers eagerly awaited a return to a more typical fair season in 2021. Pandemic-related restrictions on in-person meetings made that return seem uncertain at times. MSU Extension outlined the many ways it could support fairs in virtual, face-to-face and hybrid options, but everyone was relieved when in-person events resumed in May 2021.

“From exhibitors to fairgoers, everyone had a fantastic attitude and seemed just happy to be at the fair,” said Lori Warchuck, St. Clair County MSU Extension 4-H program coordinator, about the St. Clair County 4-H and Youth Fair. “The community came out in full force to support the fair with record attendance every night.”

Warchuck’s observations seemed true for fairs across the state, which saw large crowds ready to enjoy a day at the fair for the first time in two years. Due to the uncertainty of 4-H programming until late spring, some 4-H programs saw lower fair participation, but all who came were glad they did.

“Several 4-H’ers said, ‘We are so happy to be at the fair and with our 4-H friends,’” shared Warchuck.

barry co far 3

About 170 miles west, Kathy Pennington, Barry County MSU Extension 4-H program coordinator, expressed a similar sentiment about the Barry County Fair.

“Everyone was just genuinely happy to be there and grateful for the opportunity. Volunteers were very happy and I don’t think the kids stopped smiling all week . . . It was like coming home.”

The anticipation volunteers expressed in the weeks leading up to the fair illustrated how excited they were to return to it in 2021.

“I look forward to the eagerness on each child’s face as they display their knowledge and learn from constructive comments,” said Barry County 4-H volunteer Lisa Coe. “Above all, I hope our kids have fun and grow together while enjoying the community that the fair and 4-H promote.”

In addition to showing up in record numbers, the community also showed up with record support for the 4-H’ers who took part in 2021 4-H fair auctions, selling their livestock and still exhibit projects. Many fairs saw their best auction sales in years, both in terms of gross sales and average price per pound. Buyers seemed eager to reward 4-H’ers with high prices in exchange for the hard work they put into their projects.

“The price per pound was the highest it has ever been for many areas,” said Debra Morgan, Oakland County MSU Extension 4-H program coordinator, about the auction at the Oakland County Fair. “We believe that is a testament to the awesome community support for the youth and enthusiasm for the fair experience!”

Participant selling an animal at a 4-H auction

As she reviewed the Barry County Fair numbers, Pennington agreed with Morgan’s assessment.

“Our sales totaled more with less animals than in 2019. From my perspective this speaks volumes about the community support for 4-H.”

But for 4-H’ers, the fair is not all about the money they earn at the sale or the prizes they win. It’s about lessons learned, memories made and lifelong friendships developed.

“4-H by far has the best people inside and out,” said Kylie Ossege, an Oakland County 4-H’er who was interviewed by the Oxford Leader. “Almost every single person I’ve met through 4-H is kind and supportive. In this community, it’s not about winning, it’s about growing alongside some of the best people you can meet.”

As the fair seasons wraps up, MSU Extension is grateful to fair partners for all their hard work in making 2021 fairs happen and for their long-standing partnership with the organization.

“After the last 18 months, it’s been so great to see youth showcasing their projects and reaping the rewards of their hard work with their friends, family and club leaders cheering them on,” commented DeDecker, the state 4-H leader. “We appreciate the continued support and collaboration of our fair partners who help to make these amazing experiences possible for 4-H youth.”

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

hands raised in the air

As individuals and organizations across the country celebrate National Volunteer Week this April 18-24, Michigan State University Extension is celebrating 53 volunteers who have given 50 or more years of service to Michigan 4-H.

Hands raised up in the air.

As individuals and organizations across the country celebrate National Volunteer Week this April 18-24, Michigan State University Extension is celebrating 53 volunteers who have given 50 or more years of service to Michigan 4-H.

“Volunteers are the backbone of so many MSU Extension programs,” said Patrick Cudney, acting director for MSU Extension. “And these 53 volunteers have truly gone above and beyond, giving their time and talent to our 4-H communities for half a century.”

Michigan 4-H is the flagship youth development program of MSU Extension.  Annually, Michigan 4-H provides approximately 200,000 young people ages five to 19 with experiential learning opportunities that help develop critical life skills. These experiences are offered through numerous delivery models and countless program areas, thanks in large part to the generous support of more than 13,000 volunteers.

4-H volunteers help lead young people and grow their skills in many venues, including after-school programs, summer camps, short-term special interest groups, year-long clubs, special events, fairs, mentoring programs and more. As they provide hands-on guidance and real-world experience, these volunteers also offer young people another crucially important element: a healthy adult role model who helps to grow their confidence and ignite their dreams for the future.

“4-H truly would not be possible without the support of caring volunteers. In their 50 or more years of service, these 53 people have made an immeasurable impact,” said Jake DeDecker, state leader for Michigan 4-H Youth Development. “For the programs they have led and supported, the initiatives they have championed, and the countless lives they have changed, we thank them for their ongoing commitment and dedication to Michigan 4-H and youth in our state.”

The Michigan 4-H 50-year volunteers being recognized in 2021 are:

  • Donald Anger, Midland County
  • Pam Babbitt, Muskegon County
  • Nora Davis, Branch County
  • Betty Dennis, Tuscola County
  • Robert Dennis, Tuscola County
  • Joan Dostaler, Houghton-Keweenaw Counties
  • Carol Fanson, Ingham County
  • Harvey Fanson, Ingham County
  • Betty Flath, Jackson County
  • Michael Fleming, Macomb County
  • Willard (Bill) Fowler, Hillsdale County
  • Joyce George, Clinton County
  • Sandra Gill, Menominee County
  • Gary Gracy, St. Joseph County
  • Terry Gracy, St. Joseph County
  • Frank Graham, Isabella County
  • Carol Graham, Isabella County
  • Suzette Hendershott, Berrien County
  • Judy Kaboos, Ottawa County
  • Alice Kempf, Muskegon County
  • Karen (Kay) Kietzer, Berrien County
  • Lucy Ann Knizacky, Mason County
  • Dennis Koenigsknecht, Clinton County
  • Jean Kuhlman, Ionia County
  • Joan Kuhne, Saginaw County
  • Patricia LaBair, Tuscola County
  • Diana Langshaw, Kalamazoo County
  • Martha Lawrence, Oakland County
  • Marilyn Letts, Calhoun County
  • Joam Lindsley, St. Joseph County
  • Roberta Luttke, Berrien County
  • Leonard Mitchell, Shiawassee County
  • Shirley Myers, Calhoun County
  • Norma Osborn, Chippewa County
  • Patricia Paasman, Ottawa County
  • Mildred Pirlot, Wayne County
  • Sandi Pyle, Antrim County
  • Barbara Siebarth, Monroe County
  • Charlie Silm, Clinton County
  • Betty Simpson, St. Clair County
  • Sue Smith, Huron County
  • Joan Spindler, Shiawassee County
  • Gladys Strong, Isabella County
  • William Thompson, St. Joseph County
  • Harry Vander Kolk, Allegan County
  • Doreen Wakefield, Shiawassee County
  • Janet Wendland, Saginaw County
  • Vera Wiltse, Isabella County
  • Bev Winter, Monroe County
  • Dennis Winter, Monroe County
  • Donna Wojtysiak, St. Clair County
  • Donna Woods, Calhoun County
  • Carolyn Worth, Barry County

In recognition of their service, 50-year volunteers received a gift of appreciation from MSU Extension leadership, as well as a personal note of thanks.

Tribute gifts in honor of any or all of these 4-H volunteers may be made to support 4-H at: https://mi4hfdtn.org/memorial-tribute-gifts/.  To learn more about volunteering with Michigan 4-H, visit 4h.msue.msu.edu.

Kids from Schoolcraft County with their targets

The Hal and Jean Glassen Foundation made a $100,000 gift to establish a new 4-H endowed fund with the Michigan 4-H Foundation to support the
Michigan 4-H Shooting Sports Program.

Kids from Schoolcraft County with their targets

The Hal and Jean Glassen Foundation Endowment will support the
statewide Michigan 4-H Shooting Sports program. Above are 4-H
shooting sports participants from Schoolcraft County.

The Hal and Jean Glassen 4-H Shooting Sports Endowment Fund will provide funds for training and equipping 4-H shooting sports volunteer instructors and youth statewide. An endowment is a fund that is held permanently. The corpus of the fund is invested and held intact, and the earnings from the fund are used to support 4-H programs.

“Endowments are the gifts that keep on giving,” said Tom Huggler, president of the Glassen Foundation. “We have been supporting the 4-H Shooting Sports Instructor Training Workshop annually for about 20 years. We established the endowment so it can be funded in perpetuity.”

The Glassen Foundation’s focus is on environmental and outdoor education, shooting sports programs and enhancing wildlife, and animal welfare research.

“The foundation formed when Hal and Jean died in the 1990s,” Huggler said. “They had no children, but wanted to do good work.”

Hal and Jean Glassen were avid hunters, outdoor enthusiasts and wildlife conservationists. The Glassen Foundation was formed to continue their lifelong ambitions and goals. Hal, a University of Wisconsin graduate, was a partner in the Lansing law firm of Glassen, Rhead, McLean, Campbell and Schumacher and practiced law for 62 years prior to his death in 1992. Jean was the first woman to graduate from the University of Wisconsin. With a degree in bacteriology, she pursued a career as a biologist with the Michigan Department of Public Health.

“The Michigan 4-H Shooting Sports program is going to be a key component and contributor to the growth of shooting sports, but also to the reach for excellence in the competitive aspects of shooting,” he said.

The Glassen Foundation has been a Michigan 4-H donor and partner for the past 20 years. They have annually supported the 4-H Shooting Sports Volunteer and Instructor Training Workshop at Kettunen Center. In 2017, they provided a gift to expand resources for the shooting sports program with the purchase of a trailer to store and transport training equipment. They have also given to Project KATCH and Kettunen Center’s outdoor education program previously.

“The new endowed fund will provide continuous support of our shooting sports volunteer training workshops, ensuring this project’s
growth and sustainability for years to come,” said Laura Quist, MSU Extension program coordinator for 4-H Shooting Sports.

Quist explained that hunting and shooting is a popular family activity throughout Michigan. Like any content area, the project is the “hook” that can attract a new audience to the 4-H program. While engaged in hands-on learning experiences, youth practice safe handling of equipment, gain natural resourcesrelated knowledge and skills, and engage in ethical behavior, sportsmanship and stewardship activities. In the process, they learn critical life skills, such as leadership, self-esteem, self-discipline, goal setting, communication and record-keeping.

“We apply the same learn-by-doing approach to shooting sports that you’ll see in any other project area,” Quist said. “Shooting sports volunteers are a highly trained, dedicated group of individuals, who receive more hours of coaching than any other volunteer group across our organization.”

4-H shooting sports volunteers participate in a 15-hour workshop to become certified instructors to offer live-fire activities with 4-H members. Instruction covers skill content, safety, risk management and youth development topics. These workshops are in turn provided by a subset of these volunteers, who are experienced content experts, certified to co-lead these workshops by National 4-H Shooting Sports.

“This gift will allow Michigan 4-H to annually send new trainers to these National 4-H trainer events, to help ensure our program, workshops and curriculum are consistent with standards set for 4-H programs nationwide,” Quist said.

“Already in 2020, Michigan 4-H Shooting Sports has hosted four regional training workshops, offering instruction in archery, shotgun and hunting and wildlife disciplines. Partially funded by the Glassen Foundation’s past gifts, these workshops are bringing new volunteers and members into our fold,” she added.

Kalkaska County 4-H was able to use these workshops to attract new volunteers and families. After certifying two new archery instructors
in January, their inspired volunteers turned around and recruited an additional two more volunteers. Together, this team offered a new
archery program that recruited 32 youth into a new archery club. Of those youth, 75% of participants are brand new families to 4-H. Due
to their large response, they have incorporated science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) activities into their club meetings, so
youth participate in hands-on science activities while they await their turn with the bows. Other counties have similar stories to share.

Thanks to the Glassen Endowment, Michigan 4-H plans to send a volunteer team to the National 4-H Shooting Sports Trainer workshop
in Virginia, scheduled for October 2020.

Young 4-H'ers showing off their artwork

Summer programming is back in full force for 4-H programs across the state as in-person programming returns in 2021.

Two 4-H'ers holding up their art work they created at a 4-H event.
Presque Isle 4-H’ers showing their artwork from a 4-H summer camp activity.

As it does every year, the summer of 2021 brought the return of many childhood favorites — freedom from school, a chance to sleep in and time to enjoy the warm summer sunshine outdoors with friends and family. But this year the return of summer brought something more for those involved in Michigan 4-H: the return of face-to-face programming.

As it did nearly everything else, the COVID-19 pandemic drastically changed operations for Michigan 4-H, the youth development program of Michigan State University Extension. In March 2020, MSU Extension modified all in-person Michigan 4-H programming to a virtual setting in the interest of the health and safety of 4-H youth, volunteers, staff and their families. Though MSU Extension’s commitment to serving Michigan youth remained steadfast and staff members continued to meet the needs of the state through online programming, the lack of in-person events was heartbreaking for Michigan 4-H professionals and families alike.

Eager to return to face-to-face programming, MSU Extension professionals worked diligently to chart a path toward resuming in-person activities. In March 2021, Michigan 4-H began allowing limited in-person activities that could be conducted independently or as a single household. As a result, counties were able to hold fair livestock weigh-ins and community service projects. On May 17, Michigan 4-H resumed in-person programs that met the public health guidelines put forth by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, and the MSU Community Compact.

“Through our face-to-face parameters, we were able to offer club leaders, volunteers, staff and others in the 4-H community an opportunity to resume in-person programming while still protecting one another and the community,” said Jake DeDecker, state leader for Michigan 4-H. “We’re so grateful to those who carefully considered our face-to-face requirements and modified programs with these important safety precautions, allowing us to get back to in-person engagements with our 4-H friends and family.”

With the May announcement, clubs, leaders and 4-H professionals sprang into action. Summer is traditionally the busiest time of the year for 4-H programming and this year was no different. The range of summer 4-H programs increased further when on June 30, Michigan 4-H lifted all in-person meeting requirements for face-to-face interactions.

4-H Summer Rec: A staple in Presque Isle County

For more than 20 years, Presque Isle MSU Extension has been offering the 4-H Summer Rec program to youth ages 8 to 12. The six-week program provides youth with a daily dose of fun and education as they take part in field trips, STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) activities, games, community service and more. In addition to the daily recreation activities, attendees are provided with a healthy breakfast and lunch.

After taking a hiatus in 2020, the 4-H Summer Rec program was back in 2021 with nearly 60 participants. Among the program’s many adventures, youth explored the Besser Museum for Northeast Michigan in Alpena, toured a wastewater treatment facility in Rogers City and visited Carmeuse Lime & Stone, also in Rogers City. They learned about careers, owl pellets and the history of chocolate while enjoying beach days, scavenger hunts and summer sports. They even spent time giving back to the community by removing invasive plants from a public beach.

Presque Isle 4-H'ers standing in the bucket of a piece of equipment while on a field trip.
Presque Isle 4-H’ers on a field trip during 4-H Summer Rec

“The 4-H Summer Rec program is such a blessing to our community. Children who would be home by themselves while parents work are given a chance to interact in person with others,” said Deedra Haselhuhn, Presque Isle County 4-H parent. “To learn about our community, to do service projects and to experience field trips to places they would never get to see. The hands-on experience is so valuable at these ages.”

“This program is the best thing that has happened to Rogers City children,” said another participant’s parent. “Thank you to all involved and all staff from the bottom of my heart!”

Creating camp chronicles at MSU Tollgate Farm and Education Center

MSU Extension’s Tollgate Farm and Education Center is a 160 acre farmstead in Novi. Surrounded by the metro Detroit area, Tollgate provides people young and old an opportunity to experience the natural world and agriculture amid the urban environment. This hands-on learning environment is also home to one of the largest 4-H day camps in the state. Each year, hundreds of youth converge at Tollgate to experience the fun and excitement of 4-H summer camp.

“Every week we have a different theme of camp, from vet science to survival camp,” said Mike Mathis, director of MSU Tollgate Farm and Education Center. “We’re so excited to be offering these experiences again this year and meeting with youth face-to-face.”

With an abbreviated period to plan and prepare for summer camp, Tollgate’s summer programming is running on a shortened schedule; still, nearly 230 youth ages 4 to 19 have taken part. Camp themes in 2021 include Earth Explorers, Green Science Adventure, Splish Splash Water Camp and Outdoor Adventure Camp. All programs are being operated completely outdoors.

Youth at a Tollgate camp.
Youth at a Tollgate camp

“Téah learned so much from the vet science camps,” said one parent of a Tollgate 4-H summer camp participant. “She was exposed to so much advanced science through dissections — stuff she may never get to see or do in school! Tollgate is such a fantastic place, we appreciate the opportunities you provide!”

Helping to operate the Tollgate camps are 45 teen volunteers who serve as camp stewards. Stewards are teens ages 13 to 19 who act as volunteer assistants to the educational leaders and as role models for campers. Stewards have a deep knowledge of the farm and the educational camp program and develop skills they can use in the future in their academic and professional careers.

“Thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to be a steward for the Animal Farm Camp,” said one teen volunteer. “I really enjoyed working with everyone and I had a great time.”

4-H Swim School success in Charlevoix County

When you live in the Great Lakes State, water safety is important. In Boyne City, MSU Extension helps to make this important skill a reality each summer through their 4-H Swim School. The program offers swim lessons and water safety instruction on the shores of Lake Charlevoix, helping youth learn to swim and consider currents and other environmental factors in the natural world.

Eight sessions of the four-week swim school were offered over the summer, delivering swim lessons to 47 youth ages 5 to 14. Leading the course was 18-year-old 4-H’er Ally Herrick, a certified life guard, who took time to connect with each student in the course.

“On the first day of swim school, a special needs youth in attendance definitely didn’t want to go into the water,” explained Leah LaVanway, Charlevoix County MSU Extension 4-H program coordinator. “She sat with him on the beach and got to know more about him and what his interests were.”

Life guard instructing a swimmer on a raft
Life guard Ally Herrick on a raft instructing a participant in 4-H Swim School

Through this conversation, Herrick learned the young man loved a toy fish he had brought with him to swim school. Herrick talked with the young man about fish: different types of fish, what fish eat and how they live in water. After discussing their habitat, Herrick asked if they should take the fish to the water to play. The young man was hesitant but followed her into the water where they tossed the toy fish back and forth, going out a little deeper each time. At the end of the first lesson, the parents were so impressed Herrick had gotten him into the water, even convincing him to put his face into the water.

“His parents couldn’t thank and praise her enough,” said LaVanway. “At the end of summer, he was doing bobs in the water and learning basic strokes, but each lesson ended with playing hide and seek with the toy fish in the water. The parents and child said they couldn’t wait for next summer.”

Looking ahead

With the end of summer nearing, MSU Extension is looking ahead to favorite fall 4-H activities and planning for an eventful 2022. While the shifting COVID-19 pandemic may create the need to modify operations (as it did on August 3 when the mask requirement was reinstated for all indoor 4-H activities), MSU Extension remains hopeful mitigation steps such as mask wearing will allow face-to-face interactions to continue.