by Veronica Coons
Barton County Extension Service wants to grow the county 4-H program to include more Hispanic youth and their families. And Innovative Livestock Services is partnering with them on a pilot program, Growing Great Kids: Reaching 1st Generation 4-H Families.
“When families get involved in 4-H, the next generation usually continues to bring their children into the program, and so on,” said Bernie Unruh, 4-H & Youth Development Agent.
ILS is getting behind the initiative by providing the Reaching New Families grant that will help support summer interns who will jump-start the program. An Extension Service Expansion grant will also support the effort. Interns Priscilla Aguero and Patricia Lujan have been chosen to serve a four county area including Barton, Pawnee, Edwards and Stafford counties. They will make contact with the counties’ Hispanic families. Both young women are of Mexican descent, so navigating the cultural waters will feel familiar. Bringing these new families into the fold, not creating a segregated club, will be more of a challenge.
Interns leading the way
Priscilla Aguero is the intern for Pawnee and Barton County extension offices. She grew up in Dodge City, and in the summer spent most of her time at home with her family. Her father works for National Beef, as do many of the heads of households of the Hispanic community she grew up in.
She had never heard of 4-H. It wasn’t until she attended Kansas State University, majoring in accounting and minoring in Spanish, that she learned about it. And she learned that Dodge City had an active 4-H program all along.
“Many first-generation families are simply uninformed about it, and that’s too bad,” she said. “The program, 4-H, can help immigrants learn American traditions, and share their culture.”
Aguero will stay with a host family during her 10-week internship, and will also job shadow Rosa Velasco with Parents as Teachers.
Patricia M. Lujan will be the intern for Edwards and Stafford counties. She grew up in Lewis, so she will be in her home district. Lujan joined a club in high school. She took part in photography, foods, and communication. She was involved in forensics competitions in high school, and credited her involvement with 4-H for the improvement in her speaking skills.
She grew up integrated in her community because there was not a large Hispanic population. She simply hadn’t learned about the program earlier. Friends in 4-H invited her to come, and she’s been passionate about it ever since.
She is a senior working towards a degree in social work at Ft. Hays State University. Making connections with people is key, she says, to getting the program off the ground.
According to Unruh,there is a large Hispanic community in Great Bend, but little involvement in 4-H. Reaching this group won’t be as simple as running an advertisement or other common marketing strategies. A more human touch is needed. Luckily, Aguero and Lujan will have two experienced guides to turn to. Stephanie Mendoza, an intern for the South West Kansas area, and Rosa Gonzales, the Reaching New Audiences South West Area Coordinator will help them develop a plan. Last year, both were involved with a successful pilot program in the Garden City area which brought several families into 4-H and is continuing to succeed.
Since their mission began two weeks ago, Lujan and Aguero have visited with pastors, teachers, community leaders and the media, making contact with key community leaders.
Meeting with fathers, however, is the one key element of their campaign that is crucial, Aguero said. Fathers play an important role as the decision makers. The interns will meet directly with them to tell them about how 4-H can be a good thing for their families to take part in.
Aguero turned to her own father for advice on when and how to best approach the men and ask them to bring their wives and children to a family night. Many of the men they want to contact work at the various ILS sites, so they plan to meet with them there. Aguero’s father counseled her to keep in mind many men need to get home to help with the family, and can’t spend a lot of time talking after work. They’re also likely tired.
The interns are hopeful their initial meetings will yield to a good turnout at their upcoming Family Fun Night. Families are invited to come learn what 4-H is about on Thursday, June 19 at the Great Bend Recreation Commission at 1214 Stone Street from 6:30 to 8 p.m. They will be making ice cream, launching rockets, and snacks will be provided. They will also host a Family Night in Belpre on Tuesday, June 17.