Iowa 4-H'ers Reflect on 2012 National 4-H Congress Experience

AMES, Iowa – Now that Iowa’s 21 youth delegates to the National 4-H Congress have had time to reflect on their experience, they agree the national 4-H leadership event lived up to its title. They did, indeed, learn to “Become a Catalyst of Change.” Through the five-day youth conference, the 4-H’ers created a love for community, a respect for giving to others and friendships they hope to sustain for a lifetime.

Karen Pattison and Earl McAlexander, youth program specialists with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, chaperoned the 21 young people during the trip to Atlanta, Ga., Nov. 23 -27.

The Iowa Farm Bureau and donors to the Iowa 4-H Foundation National 4-H Congress Endowment sponsored the youth. Iowa delegates listened to speakers, participated in workshops and served the Atlanta community.

The trip began with a 17-hour bus trek through Iowa and down to Atlanta. When the bus reached its destination, the Iowa delegates unpacked and headed to the opening ceremony to listen to the first keynote speaker.

The next morning, Iowa delegate Ashley Smeby of Hancock County sang at the morning session. Through out the rest of the day, the group attended and participated in workshops. To end the long day, all the delegates went to an International Dinner and Dance.

“We arrived at one of the hotel’s ballrooms and were greeted by Hawaiian delegates,” Emily Dickinson, Iowa 4-H delegate from Harrison County, said. “There were huge decorative stands to mark mini buffets of a country’s assigned food. There was food from China, France, England, Russia, Italy, America, Mexico and more. After the dinner, we all danced, and it was so much fun! It was definitely one of my favorite times on this trip.”

On Sunday, the Iowa group visited Ebenezer Baptist Church where Martin Luther King Jr. preached and served as the co-pastor. This was another of Dickinson’s favorite times.

“We sang with and were greeted by members of the congregation,” Dickinson said. “The congregation was so full of life.”

That same afternoon, delegates attended more workshops and visited the Atlanta History Center.

On Monday morning, all 4-H delegates were divided into groups to participate in community service activities. Ashley Smeby worked on packaging meals for shut-ins, older adults and people with disabilities who were unable to make their own meals.

“My favorite part of the trip was the community service project I worked on,” said Smeby. “It was fun to package the meals and get to know the other delegates, and we could see how much the people enjoyed receiving their meals.”

Following the community service projects, delegates loaded onto buses to tour Atlanta. After the tours, the youth put on their finest outfits and attended the Congress Gala, which included a keynote speech by the 2012 Miss America.

The final session was on Tuesday morning, and following it, the Iowa delegates returned home with a greater understanding of the Atlanta community, leadership, cultural experiences, team development and the 4-H program.

“I learned everything from 4-H, and this trip enhanced every skill and bit of knowledge I already had,” said Dickinson. “My favorite part was making friends. I made friends with people from all over the country, and most especially with the people from my delegation. It’s amazing because most of us will see each other again at the Iowa 4-H Youth Conference in June.”

Smeby also enjoyed making friends with the other delegates.

“The main thing that has changed since the trip would be the indescribable friendships I have made with all of the delegates that went on the trip,” said Smeby. “It was a great experience, and I would encourage anyone who has any interest in 4-H National Congress to apply.”

Iowa 4-H’ers in grades 10 -11 are encouraged to apply to attend the 2013 National 4-H Congress. Applications are due Feb. 1, 2013 to the Iowa State 4-H Office.

For more information on 4-H National Congress and application materials, visit