4-H Teen Leaders at Colorado State Capitol

It all started out in tents pitched on the state capitol grounds.

For over 100 years, 4-Hers from around Colorado have been gathering in Denver to hone their leadership skills and learn about the workings of Colorado government. It started out around 1913 with teens camping in tents on the lawns around the Capitol, learning about the legislative process. The culmination has been the recognition of the value of 4-H by an official proclamation of ‘4-H Day in Colorado’.

This year, teens attended sessions to prepare them to meet their state legislators. They also participated in debates centering on current legislation. Teens go through a rigorous series of trainings in their local community in order to be advanced to this statewide Leadership Development Conference (LDC); 275 4-Hers and their leaders and local Extension agents met with lawmakers, toured the various meeting rooms and chambers.

“Developing excellent communication skills is absolutely essential to the development and effectiveness of leadership,” said Emmy Martinez, state 4-H officer from Pueblo County. “If a leader can’t get a message across clearly and motivate others to act on it, then having a message won’t even matter. This is important for any part of life, besides the bills that we debated in our groups.”

The conference has had many titles over the century, including Senator/Leader Meeting, but the heart remains the lessons on civic responsibility and processes that take place.

“I was able to reaffirm the idea that teenagers are able to engage in meaningful debate, with research, passion and energy – if provided the right tools and structure, via the debate lessons over four House bills even though they did not necessarily impact all of the teens at LDC,” said Robert Franklin, 4-H Youth Development Extension agent with Denver County Extension.

Franklin noted that he was able to see firsthand legislators are very happy to see and engage with youth, if even for a few moments, something that does not always seem important to youth at the time, but will be significant later.

“The 2017 Colorado 4-H Leadership Development Conference was an excellent opportunity for 4-H youth and 4-H adults to come together to learn, to laugh and to celebrate our 4-H community,” said Jean Glowacki, director of Colorado 4-H. “It is truly inspirational to be at the capitol with our senators and representatives and celebrate 4-H as part of our larger, statewide community.”

“From my perspective, 4-H Day at the Capitol is one of the best events that we do in the 4-H program,” said Connie Cecil, Extension specialist in 4-H youth development. “The legislators also get to see great 4-H young people from across the state and visit with them about important issues,” she added.

Andy Foose, state 4-H officer from Kit Carson County says he has found that 4-H day at the Capitol has been an extremely beneficial activity. “4-H members have an opportunity to learn the legislative process while promoting the Colorado 4-H at the same time.”

Each year during winter activities such as LDC, 4-Her’s also participate in a community service project. This year the 310 participants gathered donations of gently worn shoes.

“Families in the nations that receive the shoes have little to no income or livelihood,” said event organizer Melissa Barton. It is estimated that around 600 million pairs of shoes go into America’s landfills and a majority of these shoes can still be worn.“These shoes, and their ability to be sold or re-purposed, represent a micro-enterprise opportunity for individual families and their communities, representing true sustainability, helping to develop and sustain micro-businesses in more than 25 under-developed nations around the world.”

During LDC, 42 bags full of 25 shoes each were collected. These donations of 1,050 shoes will added with other donations collected over the next month.

For more information on how 4-H Grows True Leaders in Colorado, visit colorado4H.org.