In what evolved into a young person's "marketplace of ideas," 4-H members and adult mentors, in Arapahoe County, met in Littleton to share thoughts about shaping youth development during the next century.

About two dozen 4-Hers, their leaders and interested adults took part in a "Centennial Conversation" aimed at finding ways to improve the future of America's youths.

This discussion was one of many that will occur across the nation. It was initiated by the National 4-H Council, in observance of the 100th anniversary of the 4-H youth development program. The one-hundredth year of 4-H occurs in 2002.

"In celebrating a century of 4-H, program leaders decided the best way to focus attention on the organization and on all youths was to engage young people and adults in meaningful conversation about ways to encourage young people to develop and excel," said Stephanie Morsch, Arapahoe County Extension 4-H agent.

The United States government is underwriting this national project, with a $5 million grant, Morsch said.

Each county in the United States is encouraged to convene a group of young people and adults and to come up with ideas about improving youth development, in the century ahead. Those attending the county conversations then will select the top five ideas to be sent to their state 4-H office. In Colorado, a statewide conversation for youth development will be held Feb. 3, in Fort Collins. The best ideas from this session will be forwarded to the National 4-H Council, which will convene a meeting of selected 4-H delegates, in Washington, DC, between Feb. 27 and March 3, 2002. From this meeting will come suggestions that will be forwarded to the President of the United States.

Sheila Gains, Arapahoe County Extension agent for consumer and family education, moderated and facilitated the exchange.

Prior to the meeting, participants had been encouraged to talk with other young people and adults about the future of youth development. Having convened a group of teachers, from Hinkley High School, in Aurora, 4-Her Julie Marie Shepherd, 16, Hinkley student, posted the concept of mandatory community service for graduating from high school.

"Half the students might moan and grown about it, but a lot of people go through their lives without doing any community service," Shepherd said. "By learning about community service early, they will be better off," she added. The community service initiative was the second top vote-getter, from more than 50 ideas.

Topping the list was creating better mentoring programs. Then came the community service idea, followed by volunteerism, focusing on positive things teens do, rather than giving so much attention to negative activities, and then changing the rules about prayer in schools.

No idea was insignificant, and they erupted with geyser-like urgency and spontaneity. On cue, members of the group recorded their thoughts on paper. Then, one-by-one, they came forward to explain and then to post their suggestions on sticky boards.

Anna Powell, a 4-H member, from Centennial, suggested "creating small clubs or groups so people can meet other people their age."

Julie Fincher, Aurora, encouraged mentoring elementary school students and offering career fairs, at the elementary level, "so kids can start thinking about what they want to do when they grow up."

Magen Shanteau, a 4-Her, from Aurora, suggested that extra-curricular activities be made more available to home-schoolers. Others in the group followed suit with this idea. She also rocked this group of teens by suggesting a change in the law, so "kids would have to be 18 to drive. Right now, I can drive in a year and a half," she said, indicating that she might not be ready for the responsibility. A collective moan discharged through the group. Shanteau also suggested that youths in the future, become more involved in adult organizations, such as city council or organizations that affect the whole community, she said.

Travis Chiles, Centennial, promoted the idea of young people helping the elderly with chores, such as mowing lawns and raking leaves.

Kindra Maroney, a 4-Her, from Bennett, wants to improve teen programs, "so kids will want to participate in wholesome activities."

Other vote-getting ideas included assisting parents with raising their families. Single-parent and two-parent working families need help, the group agreed. Encouraging more conversation between the generations and organizing more smoking awareness programs that deal with the effects of smoking on health were two additional ideas.

Promote learning something new each day to better yourself, suggested one participant. Provide better pay for daycare workers, suggested another. Offering mandatory before-and-after-school programs for children up to age 12 was another idea.

And finally, this idea--which was a vote-getter, but which didn't make it into the top five: "Give less warnings about tickets--people get off too easy."

The conversation ran for an hour and a half. By 8 p.m., time had lapsed, but the ideas hadn't. This group was rockin' and rollin' into the next century.

4-H is the youth development program of Colorado State University Cooperative Extension. It is available to young people through the Cooperative Extension office in each county.

Residents of Arapahoe County can learn about 4-H by calling Cooperative Extension, at 303-730-1920. The Extension office is located at 5804 S Datura St., in Littleton.

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