Conference teaches 4-H youth about leadership, teamwork

Karol Osborne  |  3/15/2017 7:31:31 PM

(03/15/17) POLLOCK, La. — Xavier Bell knows the value of leadership and communication firsthand. Bell, a former Louisiana 4-H Executive Board member from Concordia Parish, believes programs like the annual 4-H Junior Leadership Conference (JLC) helped him develop those skills.

Now a junior at LSU majoring in agriculture and extension education, Bell returned to the conference this year to serve as a chaperone and Collegiate 4-H volunteer. The event was held March 10-12 at the Grant Walker Educational Center in Pollock.

“This conference is unique because it is peer driven,” Bell said. “When delegates realize it’s not adult driven, that’s motivation to them to be leaders not only in their parish but also on the regional and state level.”

Teens in grades eight to 12 participate each year in the statewide conference. Though sponsored by the LSU AgCenter, youth elected to the 4-H state Executive Board plan and conduct the event, said AgCenter 4-H specialist Leslie Moran. Adult leaders offer guidance.

The conference shapes future leaders by motivating participants to return home and share their experiences with their parish 4-H Clubs, Moran said.

About 350 youth and adults from across the state attended the three-day event, where attendees could choose to focus on one of six “tracks”: outdoor skills, agricultural science, healthy living, performing arts, leadership and service learning.

“Junior Leadership Conference really took off and started growing when we put the teens in charge of teaching,” said Karen Martin, AgCenter 4-H regional coordinator.

Planning begins during the summer, when newly-elected Executive Board members meet to choose the educational tracks, plan activities and develop the event theme.

“The board developed this year’s theme — ‘JLC State of Mind: Leadership Takes on the Big Apple’ — and incorporated it into each of the tracks, highlighting different aspects of New York,” Martin said.

Throughout the conference, delegates are encouraged to join one of the seven 4-H youth leadership boards offered on the state level.

“This is where youth gain greater learning experiences as they meet and work with other youth outside their parish 4-H programs,” Martin said. “That’s what they always talk about — the friends they make and how much fun it is.”

Caddo Parish AgCenter agent Jordan Peldyak believes JLC develops great leaders.

“It really opens their eyes,” he said. “They hear about the programs from each other and can jump right into leadership as early as next year.”

Peldyak assisted in the outdoor skills track, which featured rifle shooting, archery, outdoor cooking and a game using GPS to navigate through different stations.

Kaitlyn Kramer, a shooting sports ambassador from St. Charles Parish, has attended JLC four times and led the rifle shooting and safety session.

“4-H has made me a better leader and made me want to teach more people so they see what we do and how it improves people’s lives,” she said.

“You learn by doing, so planning, going through the steps, gathering supplies and working out the kinks as you go helps you get better and better,” said Evangeline Parish 4-H Executive Board member Lelia Deville.

Deville hopes to encourage more youth to become advocates for 4-H. She and her team planned and facilitated the agricultural science track that had youth building structures from forestry products, using shaving cream to practice sheep shearing and learn the parts of a cow, making a terrarium and taking part in an “Amazing Race”-style challenge to learn more about academic majors and careers in agriculture.

First-time Richland Parish delegate Samantha Summers said she learned healthy alternatives in making foods like pizza and cheesecake and practiced some new yoga poses.

“Instead of using regular cream cheese, we used fat-free cream cheese, and we substituted whole wheat tortillas for the bread on the pizza. It tasted pretty good!” she said.

Winn Parish 4-H Executive Board member Micah Broomfield led the performing arts track, where delegates built guitars and kazoos out of cardboard boxes and tubes, wrote songs, acted in a play and learned to tie balloon animals.

Broomfield said the activities were tied to New York’s Broadway scene with a variety show finale featuring 15 singers, dancers, comedians and musicians.

Caddo Parish ninth-grader Jacoby Fuller said he learned teamwork in the leadership track that divided delegates into teams named for three of the New York City boroughs: the Bronx, Queens and Staten Island. His team had to figure out how to build a tower at least 2 feet tall using balloons, straws and wooden sticks.

“It showed me that people can work together, and you can accomplish more as a team. You can’t do as much on your own,” Fuller said.

“People think you can’t really make a difference because you’re a teenager, or you’re not really powerful or important in the world, but just making a small difference in one person’s life can make a big difference,” said Acadia Parish Citizenship Board member Anna Stutes.

Stutes said she made stuffed teddy bears using felt and fabric glue and designed pillowcases in the service-learning track to donate to CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) as part of the state 4-H focus on foster care.

“A lot of foster children lose things when they change homes, so now they’ll have something that sticks with them,” she said.

St. James Parish 4-H Science and Engineering (SET) Board member Remy Lodrigues said he was inspired to run for a state board after attending JLC last year. He was impressed with how well-mannered, behaved and capable the teen leaders were.

“You always think the adults put on these camps, but this is all run by the kids,” he said.

Orleans Parish adult volunteer Susan Warner said she liked seeing youth dealing with one another in an interactive environment where their peers are teaching and doing the activities with them.

“The teens did a great job. You would never know they were in high school,” she said.

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St. James Parish 4-H member Remy Lodrigues, center, works with team members in the agricultural science track at the Junior Leadership Conference to build a housing model using forestry products. The statewide conference is sponsored annually by the LSU AgCenter to build leadership and citizenship skills among teens. Photo by Karol Osborne/LSU AgCenter

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4-H’ers practice archery skills during the Junior Leadership Conference at the Grant Walker Educational Center in Pollock on March 11. Photo by Olivia McClure/LSU AgCenter

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A 4-H’er paints a colorful pillowcase during the Junior Leadership Conference at the Grant Walker Educational Center in Pollock on March 11. Photo by Olivia McClure/LSU AgCenter

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4-H’ers make guitars using cardboard boxes during the Junior Leadership Conference at the Grant Walker Educational Center in Pollock on March 11. Photo by Olivia McClure/LSU AgCenter

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