February held an amazing experience for three students that were able to make the trip to Washington, DC for the 4-H Healthy Living Summit with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach Region 4 Youth and Nutrition Coordinator Laura Liechty.
“I had attended last year to gauge if it would be a worthwhile experience for our youth,” said Liechty who decided it would be a great experience for students. “What I learned seemed very similar to what our youth were doing as part of their school based 4-H Food & Fitness clubs.”
She said during the conference, that was held Feb. 12-15, “I kept thinking ‘we should be here!’ Our youth should be sharing the work they do for their schools and communities through their 4-H clubs to these students because they are already doing what this conference is trying to encourage 4-H youth to do.”
Ali McDonald, a freshman from New Hampton, Lauren Gillitzer, a freshman from MFL-Mar-Mac, and Brianne Martin, a junior grader from West Central of Maynard, attended the trip with Liechty.
“These three girls have been leaders of their school’s Food and Fitness 4-H clubs for a number of years and have represented their school’s youth club on the Regional Youth Leadership Team that I coordinate,” said Liechty.
Ali McDonald went to St. Joseph Community School from preschool all the way through the 8th grade and when she reached 5th grade, she and her classmates got an opportunity to join the Food and Fitness team. This team was made up of older students that could be role models to younger students.
“I love the feeling of showing and teaching the younger kids that there is a healthier way of living,” said McDonald.
Through the Food and Fitness team she has been able to do cross-age teaching, help plants a garden, taste test, cafeteria coach and the list could go on and on.
“I think it’s safe to say that being a member of this group has let me do and experience some amazing things,” said McDonald.
The conference is for youth in grades 9-12, so Liechty served as the students’ chaperone and mentor. At the conference there were over 250 people in attendance from 23 different states.
“I got to also attend sessions and gather information to bring back to the region, but really this conference is meant for the youth to learn of new programs from other states, brainstorm new ideas and create a plan to take back to their school or community. This fall, I had submitted a proposal to lead a workshop. It was accepted so the three girls teamed up with me and we led a workshop on our Cafeteria Coaching program.”
Over the four days, there were keynote speakers, career professional panels and several workshops the group was able to choose to attend on topics ranging from food science to healthy snacks and fitness integration strategies to anti-bullying programs, etc.
“The girls and I spread ourselves across different workshops to take in all we could and we definitely came away with new ideas and materials to bring back to our 4-H Food and Fitness clubs in the region.”
A key part of the conference is that the youth from each state collaborate on an action plan related to an issue they want to address or a program they want to implement. There was another Iowa group there from O’Brien and Lyon Counties, so the groups teamed up to brainstorm.
“The girls from our region came up with two different projects, one focused on addressing the issue of bullying in schools and the other project is about underage drinking,” said Liechty. “Although these aren’t topics that have been a big part of our focus in Food and Fitness, they definitely are a part of Healthy Living, and I am excited for them to share these new ideas with our Regional team.”
There was a lot of good food and social time and the girls made lots of new friends from all over the country. The last night at the conference was spent on a night bus tour of Washington.
McDonald said she took many things away from this conference. One thing being that you sometimes need to step outside of your comfort zone.
“I am not very good at this and from talking to people that I don’t know, this experience made me work on it, many times too. By the end of this conference I had made many friends and I’m not that scared anymore of talking in front of crowds. I also realized you have to be confident in yourself and just be proud of who you are,” said McDonald.
On Monday, the students presented their action plans though a poster session to conclude the conference. They did decide to stay one extra day to do some sightseeing but unfortunately in DC, snow isn’t treated the way it is in Iowa, so museum closings hindered a bit of their to-do list, but they did get to tour the Holocaust Museum, see the Declaration of Independence at the National Archives and do a quick run through of the American History Smithsonian Museum before they headed for the airport.
“All I know is that I will never forget this experience or the amazing girls I got to spend it with,” said McDonald.
The NE Iowa Food and Fitness Initiative and ISU Extension and Outreach contributed the funds for the group to travel to Washington, DC, and participate in the conference.
“I was so impressed with our students’ enthusiasm and involvement during this conference. They came away with a whole new excitement for the work they do in their schools and our region. I look forward to their leadership this next year and leading workshops of their own at our next Regional Youth Leadership Team meeting. I’m very excited for what is to come and hope to take another group of students next year!”
Source: Brittany Bierle, New Hampton Tribune, 3/6/16.