AMES, Iowa - Nearly 150 youth in grades 8-12 participated in the fifth annual 4-H Connect Retreat at Iowa State University and Clover Woods Camping Center. The spring retreat connects youth to 4-H while celebrating Latino, Native American, Asian, African and Asian/African American cultures.
“This is an opportunity to get to know other people from different counties and make alliances with people that might benefit you in the future,” said Jocelyn Najera-Solis, a 4-H youth leadership team member from Polk County who helped plan this year’s retreat.
4-H youth representing 10 counties across Iowa spent the first day of the retreat exploring college and career opportunities on the Iowa State campus. Youth participated in a panel discussion with multicultural ISU students and heard from keynote speaker Kameron Middlebrooks, an ISU Extension and Outreach community and economic development program coordinator. They also explored campus life through visits to the ISU colleges, residence halls and dining halls.
The remainder of the weekend retreat was held at the Clover Woods Camping Center, where youth participated in educational workshops, traditional camping experiences such as night hikes and campfire games, and leadership development activities focusing on healthy living, STEM, citizenship, leadership, and communication and the arts through a cultural perspective.
4-H members shared that they learned more about the importance of speaking up for themselves and how to achieve their goals by listening to experiences from those of differing cultures.
“But perhaps most important, youth were able to experience what it means to be a member of 4-H and belong to this unique youth organization,” said Cayla Taylor, 4-H program manager with ISU Extension and Outreach.
Catherine Arellano, a 4-H member from Muscatine County, reflected on her experience at the retreat. “4-H Connect is a great way to make new friends while getting a unique outdoor experience,” Arellano said.
Participants were encouraged to select workshops from a variety of topics, ranging from “Poetry Hop” to “Mexican Appetizers.” Tonatiuh Merlos-Rojas, a 4-H youth leadership team member from Polk County, believes that this retreat is different from others he’s been to “because you have the opportunity to learn about cultures from around the world,” he said.
The 4-H Connect Retreat is a launching pad for youth who haven’t been reached by 4-H Youth Development to begin engaging with their local programs, Taylor said. The 4-H Connect Retreat is offered at no cost to youth enrolled as 4-H members. It also introduces 4-H volunteers and staff to culturally based leadership development best practices. After the youth return home from the statewide retreat, the goal is to help sustain them locally through a 4-H club or learning community, or other long-term experience.
This program is made possible through a National 4-H Council grant sponsored by the Margaret A. Cargill Philanthropies, in addition to the support of many Iowa 4-H staff and volunteers statewide.