Reinvesting in youth
SPENCER – If it takes a village to raise a child, chances are it might take someone to facilitate the bridging between the village and the children.
Iowa State University Extension in Clay County received the Powerful Partnership Award from ISU last month because of the success its seen in bringing youth together with their communities.
The office staff was recipient of one of three such awards distributed in Iowa this year.
“We don’t often see county offices winning awards like this at the state level,” said Bonnie Dalagher, executive director of Region 1, which includes Clay County. “Our mission is to educate kids through partnerships, so this is really an honor.”
Anissa Jepsen, associate director for youth programming, said it’s about getting youths together with others in their communities.
She said the plan takes care of itself from there.
“This isn’t a cookie-cutter thing,” Jepsen said. “We get kids together with businesses, organizations and other people who lead whatever special interest activity they’re doing.
“We decide what we want to do and get the people involved that we need.
“We don’t just go through a check-list because every partnership we do is different.”
This kind of programming doesn’t come free.
Dalagher said Clay County Extension was one of three Iowa counties to receive a national VEAR Grant – Volunteer Engagement and Activation Resources – based on national research regarding what motivates volunteers.
The award was sponsored by Monsanto and the National 4-H Council.
“Our focus was on corporate volunteers,” said Dalagher, “and how we recruit and engage them.
“It’s relational. It’s knowing someone that can work with these kids to help them want to return to live here someday.”
As part of the partnership model, Clay County 4-H has special interest, or SpIn, activities.
Whether a workshop or outing, the activity is led by people, business or organizations within Clay County communities.
It gets 4-H’ers mixing in the community to get hands-on experience with whatever they might be doing.
Partnerships number around 50.
“We couldn’t do it without our partners,” said Jepsen. “Our partners bring the knowledge and we bring the kids.”
Topics include education on animals and livestock, veterinary science, glass sculpting, jewelry making, photography, farm safety, gardening, understanding wildlife, sharp shooting, wind energy, sewing and cross-stitching, cooking, food chemistry, money management, comedic acting, city department exploration, communications skills, print and electronic media, citizenship, leadership, entrepreneurship, film making, robotics, physics, medicine and human health.
SpIn events involve individuals, businesses or organizations from local communities who lead and carry them out.
SpIn events often fill up quickly.
“When we go out searching for someone to partner with, we put on our happy faces and talk to them,” said Jepsen. “We’re excited about what we do, and we know that they can offer us as much as we can offer them.”
Dalagher said that by working with sponsors, “our kids get the benefit because those people are passionate and knowledgeable about what they’re doing.
“They can pass that passion along to our kids and give them hands-on experience.
“It would take us hours to learn what these people already know.”
One example was a SpIn event at the Spencer Hospital, where 4-H members got to enter an operating room, gown up and do a mock surgery, tour respiratory therapy areas, tour the ambulance, go through the accounting department to know what it costs to run a hospital.
Their film-making event allowed youth to learn how to set up shots, learn about lighting and, when finished, they each receive Adobe software so take home so they can practice what they learned.
A big pertaining event was called Aug-Citing, at the Clay County Fair, which now reaches all (approximate) 215 fourth-grade students from every Clay County school.
“Farm Frenzy, which we just did, is part of this,” said Jepsen. “The kids don’t get certified in tractor safety there, but they get educated about the dangers of the farm.”
Dalager and Jepsen said the beauty of SpIn pertaining events is they can be used as 4-H projects – with make-and-take items, or citizenship and leadership skills learned and used in their clubs and, in turn, the community.
Clay County youth programming offers 500 hours of programming that anyone from any county can attend.
The Extension office can open programs so wide, Dalagher said, due to the generosity of its partners.
She said funds are well spent, with Clay County youth programming reaching one in three youths.
“There’s something attractive about making a real difference to kids,” said Dalagher. “It can change the trajectory of adult life because when adults come around children and reinvest in them, the children see themselves more as part of the community.
“They know the adults, businesses and families and they feel invested-in.”
She said there are 400 volunteers in Clay County youth programming who log about 7,000 volunteer hours during the nine days of the Clay County Fair.
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