A group of 27 4-H members from the Nebraska 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.
The 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, can make the trip. Several adult sponsors accompanied the group.
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.
Once on the CWF campus, 4-H members from different states are grouped to work together on issues. This cross-grouping process was new this year, but Paisley said it was active, “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.”
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.
Kaitlyn Hunt of Garden County added, “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.