Texas

Take 88 kids, ages 8 to 13. Add 19 high school kids and a weekend away from home. It's a recipe for disaster, right?

Wrong.

At the recent Texas 4-H Leadership Retreat for junior 4-Hers, young attendees learned about leadership and character education, said Dr. Montza Williams, Texas Cooperative Extension specialist for 4-H and youth development. Williams was in charge of the event at the Texas 4-H Center.

This retreat for younger 4-Hers was developed and taught by older ones--members of the Texas 4-H Council--with 21 adult chaperones and three 4-H faculty members on hand.

The weekend was also a first, said Dr. Darlene Locke, Extension specialist for 4-H and youth and program director for the center.

"I do believe it is the first time we have embraced the idea of youth teaching youth and youth providing the leadership for the entire retreat," she said. "The state 4-H council members planned and implemented the workshop from beginning through the end. The only 4-H faculty involvement was the evaluation instrument and coaching."

The older kids designed the event with the younger kids in mind.

"We started planning at our state council training held the last week in July," said Amanda Smith, 18. A senior at Bryan High School, Smith has been a member of 4-H for 10 years.

"It took two planning sessions and multiple individual communications to effectively devise the Junior Leadership Retreat," said Aaron Jennings, 17, of Fredonia. He is a 12-year 4-H member and current state president. "Hours were spent not only in business meetings, but also over the phone and through personal e-mails between council members."

The resulting retreat had a superhero theme, Williams said.

"Everything revolved around being a superhero in your community," he said.

Sessions were on leadership, teamwork, personal uniqueness and individuality, healthy lifestyles and good character, Williams said. The young 4-Hers also learned about community service through a project called Kits for Kids, which were assembled for some of the children affected by hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

"I was in charge of leading the 'Every Superhero Needs to be Super Healthy' session," Smith said, "where we focused on ways to stay healthy and lead health-related activities in their own counties. The kids all loved doing the super hero scavenger hunt which involved us running all over the camp grounds."

As state president, Jennings had some of the more official duties and helped with the community service project.

"I was really surprised, but I believe the younger kids enjoyed packing the Kits for Kids the most," he said. "Everyone could sense the giving attitude present during the assembly of all the bags."

Items packed in the kits included school supplies such as highlighters, brochures, coloring books and crayons, notebooks, binders, paper, markers, pens and glue. These were donated by 4-H members across the state, Locke said.

But that wasn't all.

"Glory Be Company and its CEO, Steve Bolt, donated 850 stuffed animals, 500 pairs of Wildcat (flipflop) sandals and most of the shipping for this project," said Gayle Hall, Extension 4-H and youth specialist.

This service project produced surprising results, Jennings said.

"I expected the participants to grumble about the delay in the games and activities associated with the project," he said. "However, each kid was thrilled to take our example of serving and caring for others, and (turn) it into a legacy of care for the unfortunate youth affected b hurricanes Katrina and Rita."

The resulting 571 kits were sent to six Texas counties most devastated by the hurricanes--Jasper, Newton, Orange, Jefferson, Hardin and Chambers--to be distributed to younger students there, said Williams.

"The kids had a wonderful time," Williams said. "The council members did an excellent job. I was impressed!"

"It was an exciting demonstration of leadership at work," Locke said.

"The council members applied the training they have received while being in 4-H in an outstanding manner.

"Will we do it again? You betcha!" she said. "The 4-H Center has the date of Nov. 3 to 5, 2006, reserved for Junior Leadership Retreat '06!"

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