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75th National 4-H Youth Conference Focuses on the Youth Voice

Over 300 youth and adults convened in Washington, DC, at the 75th National 4-H Conference on April 1-6, 2005, to share ideas and form recommendations in guiding future national 4-H youth development programs in their communities.

With a theme of “Build the Future – Tag You’re It,” the conference included roundtable discussions, workshops, a Town Hall meeting, and other activities that emphasized civic engagement, youth-adult partnerships, and professional development.

The delegates met with their state legislators and staff during Capitol Hill Day, representing youth from their state and discussing state 4-H programs.

During breakfast at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Assembly, participants met Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns, a 4-H alumnus. 4-H’ers Lee Schoof of Iowa and Rosa Beyer of Nebraska presented Johanns with the official 4-H Secretary's flag and a welcome basket of state 4-H mementos representing states from across the nation.

Speaking from his own 4-H experiences, Johanns said the skills and values learned in 4-H are shaping the future leaders of the nation. He said the skills he gained from 4-H have led him to a life of public service as mayor of Lincoln, Neb., and governor of Nebraska before coming to the USDA. Johanns reflected on his public service management style, which he says incorporates respect, dignity, and equality, and how these ideals of public service are similar to those of 4-H.

“It’s no surprise I was a 4-H member; these are lessons I learned that have help shape my life,” said Johanns. “Public service is more than a job; it’s a calling, and I feel strongly that it is a privilege. I’m very proud to say as the Secretary of Agriculture that I’m a strong supporter of 4-H.”

At the USDA Assembly, Brigadier General John Macdonald, Commander U.S. Army Community and Family Support Center, addressed delegates about the partnership formed between the USDA and the Department of Defense. He commended the delegates for their continued service to OMK and helping those in need.

Delegates also assembled Hero Packs, which will be dispersed to children of National Guard and Reserve soldiers in their states as part of Operation: Military Kids, a national collaborative effort. In addition, delegates were invited to donate children’s books to help “build a wall of books” that will be given to charitable organizations in the Washington, DC, area as well as overseas to the Landstuhl Army Regional Medical Center Fisher House in Landstuhl, Germany.

Macdonald also remarked on the working nature of the conference in which delegates share ideas and make recommendations for the future of 4-H.

“The exciting part about 4-H is that you are helping guide your future. That’s what this conference is about, and that’s what we are hear to listen to,” he said.

Cathann Kress, CSREES National 4-H Headquarters Director, shared with delegates the top recommendations taken from the event’s roundtable discussions and the town hall meeting. Delegates wanted more attention on state and national opportunities to keep younger teens interested in 4-H, a national service project, getting high school credit for 4-H activities, and an increase in 4-H communication across the nation. The recommendations will be shared with Secretary Johanns and extension leaders at the national, state, and local levels.

To celebrate the 75th National 4-H Camp/Conference Anniversary, delegates welcomed back alumni of past camps and conferences, including Nellie Turner, who attended the first Camp/Conference in 1927. Other conference activities included the Clover Cruise aboard the Spirit of Washington and the annual variety show. Other speakers who addressed the delegates and leaders during the week included: Byron Garrett, Policy Advisor on Faith and Community Initiatives for the governor of Arizona, Craig Karges, illusionist, and champion wrestler Rulon Gardner.

In 1927, the USDA implemented the first National 4-H Camp/Conference. This year’s conference marked a 75-year tradition of bringing together the nation’s 4-H youth and adult leaders, volunteers, and professionals. Known as the “Secretary’s Conference,” the National 4-H Conference continues to be the major annual youth development event for USDA.

Since its inception, the National 4-H Conference has served as an avenue to assist youth and adult leaders in developing recommendations to guide 4-H programs nationally and in their communities. As the sponsor for this conference, the National 4-H Headquarters--located at the USDA's Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service--seeks to promote positive youth development, facilitate learning, and engage youth in the work of the Land-Grant Universities and USDA to enhance their quality of life.