A group of 27 4-H members from the southern Panhandle learned about political processes in the living classroom of the nation’s capital as part of Citizenship Washington Focus (CWF), an intensive 4-H civic engagement program for high-school youth held at the National 4-H Conference Center in Chevy Chase,Md. The youths engaged with youths from five other states in lively but civil discussion and debate of several current issues, then drafted and debated bills to address those issues. They also spent much of the week venturing out into Washington, D.C., touring government agencies, monuments and memorials, and meeting with Congressional representatives.
The western Nebraska group was joined at the week-long CWF session by 4-H delegations from Utah, Montana, Illinois, South Carolina and North Dakota. Altogether, 140 4-Hers took part.
Among the other groups who shared the CWF experience this summer was a 4-H delegation from north-central Nebraska, with 41 from Cherry County and one from Wheeler County. They attended the first of six weekly sessions (the week before the Panhandle group), with sight-seeing stops in Chicago, Cleveland, and Gettysburg along the way to the National 4-H Center.
The southern Panhandle contingent included 12 youth from Garden County, seven from Cheyenne County, and eight from Deuel county. The adult leader was Sarah Paisley, a Nebraska Extension 4-H Youth Development Educator from Oshkosh. The group included these 4-Hers:
Garden County: Chesney Stanczyk, Cole Coss, Drake Yates, Dutch Yates, Emily Levick, Josie Marquez, Kaitlyn Hunt, Kelsee Moffat, Maddie Lake, Madison Rauch, Mallory Zorn, Ty Coss.
Cheyenne County: Allison Lofton, Dyson Grabowski, Ella Miller, Holden Syverson, Jasmine Deeds, Kalid Radmacher, Kord McMillen.
Deuel County: Caitlyn Koenen, Chase Isenbart, Elizabeth Whiting, Emma Schneider, Ethan Naylor, Keeley Naylor, Nolan Ortgies, Rheya Reichman.
Paisley said any 4-H member who wants to go and can raise the money to do so can make the trip. Fund-raising is done county by county. Several adult sponsors accompanied the group.
During CWF, youth get a behind-the-scenes look at the nation’s capital while meeting with members of Congress to learn more about how their government works. At the end of the program, youth draft step-by-step action plans to address important issues in their communities.
The southern Panhandle delegation met with 3rd District Rep. Adrian Smith on the Capitol steps for a question-and-answer session and photo opportunity. They also met with a representative from U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse’s office.
They toured the Capitol, White House, Supreme Court chambers, FBI headquarters, Library of Congress, and other agencies. They visited museums, monuments and memorials, including the Lincoln Memorial; Jefferson Memorial; FDR Memorial; Arlington National Cemetery; World War II, Vietnam and Korea war memorials; Marine Corps War Memorial; Pentagon 9/11 Memorial; Holocaust Museum; and Mount Vernon. On the way to Washington, the group had an opportunity for sight-seeing and historical tours in New York City, Philadelphia and Baltimore.
Once on the CWF campus, 4-H members from different states are grouped together to work together on issues. This cross-grouping process was new this year, but Paisley said it was effective, “so the kids could get a little better idea of how to interact and debate and talk about hot topics with other people. I really love that aspect. Our kids really need that skill, to be able to talk to people especially when hot topics came up.”
“When you go on a trip like this you really get to know them personally, … their background and where they hope to go in the future. Just seeing them coming out of their shell, seeing them in a completely different environment is always rewarding.”
“Watching them interact with Representative Smith was the highlight of my trip. Seeing how they engaged and they were so respectful and they just really blossomed at that moment. Seeing their faces when they see some of those monuments for the first time, the shock and awe of it all, was also really rewarding.”
Several of the students called CWF a life-changing experience.
“It was a great learning experience,” said Chase Isenbart of Deuel County, who liked venturing out into the nation’s capital as well as learning and discussing the issues with his fellow 4-H members. “It changed everything for me. I thought I knew some of the stuff. But some of the stuff they told us I had no clue about.”
Ethan Naylor of Deuel County said: “I learned a lot about political opinions and other people’s political views and how it differs from state to state and even in a lot of cases county to county. It’s interesting how a lot of that can change based off of your background.” In being exposed to different people, and their backgrounds and viewpoints, he said he gained confidence in his own opinions as well.
Caitlyn Koenen of Deuel County also appreciated being exposed to other viewpoints: “CWF was a great experience because we learned respecting others opinions, and that’s huge in this new, growing world because of so many controversial topics. And we also learned how to get along with others we don’t know and that’s pretty cool, getting out of your comfort zone.”
Added Kaitlyn Hunt of Garden County: “I think the CWF trip was a great experience and an opportunity to learn different things and get in communication with others and have the opportunity to meet others that aren’t always like you.”
Community service was one of the lessons taken back home by Ella Miller of Cheyenne County. “What I learned this week was how to help people in your community, and (also to) just learn about civil discourse.” She added, “I loved meeting different people. I got to learn a lot of different people’s names and what their interests were.”
CWF not only strengthens young people’s understanding of the government’s civic process, but it also boosts their leadership skills, communication skills and overall confidence.
4-H is the nation’s largest youth development organization (with nearly 6 million members). 4-H programs empower young people through experiences that develop critical life skills. 4-H is a joint effort of the Cooperative Extension System and USDA and serves every county and parish in the United States through a network of 110 public universities and more than 3,000 local Extension offices.