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Ohio County 4-H Members Expand Horizons in D.C.

Photo Provided From left, Justin Dutcher of Elm Grove, Wheeling; Kaitlyn Adams of Valley Grove; Rachel Boring of Valley Grove; and Jesse Bennett, who lives on Big Wheeling Creek, stand in front of the West Virginia portion of the World War II memorial in Washington, D.C. The four teens were in D.C. for a national 4-H leadership camp called Citizen Washington Focus July 3-9.

In an unprecedented opportunity, the Ohio County 4-H organization sent four local club members to a national leadership conference. Citizenship Washington Focus took place July 3-9 in Washington, D.C.

Because of the cost — $900 per attendee — only one or two students, if any, from the county usually go to the annual conference, said Lewis Honaker, West Virginia University Extension agent in Ohio County. Prior to five years ago, it had been at least a decade since any county youth participated.

The week included visiting with lawmakers, leadership training, learning about bill writing, developing an action plan for each state and visiting monuments.

Rachel Boring and Kaitlyn Adams of Valley Grove, Jesse Bennett, who lives on Big Wheeling Creek, and Justin Dutcher of Elm Grove in Wheeling all were eager to attend the conference, having heard about it from Rachel’s older sister, Becca, who attended two years ago. Kaitlyn, Jesse and Justin are cousins. All four are members of local clubs as well as the Teen Leaders 4-H club.

The four teens talked about their experiences during a break in activities at Ohio County 4-H camp on Wednesday at Camp Russel in Oglebay Park.

They agreed they were impressed when U.S. Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., said he knew exactly where they all lived — even the location of Jesse’s rural family farm. McKinley is a Wheeling native.

Rachel, 16, who will be a junior at Wheeling Park High School, said a highlight was being one of five West Virginia youths chosen to present West Virginia native Sylvia Burwell, U.S. Health and Human Services secretary, with a 4-H alumni award.

For 17-year-old Jesse, a rising senior at Park who has enlisted in the U.S. Army, the best part was visiting Arlington National Cemetery.

“I kind of geeked out when I got to see that,” he said.

The teens agreed learning how bills are written was an eye-opening experience.

“I learned a lot more about politics. … I hate politics. So it opened my eyes to a lot of stuff, expecially the bill writing,” Jesse said.

“I like (politics) more than I did before,” Rachel said.

Bill Freyler, an Ohio County 4-H volunteer and past leader, has been involved in 4-H for 56 years. He said the purpose of sending the kids to D.C. is to “expand their horizons.”

All four agreed the experience did just that.

Justin,16 and a rising junior at Park, said 4-H has given him the opportunity to become more social. Although shy, he made a point to meet kids from other states while in D.C.

Jesse said living on a farm, his family doesn’t have the freedom to travel, so he was grateful for the experience.

“4-H has changed everything,” said Kaitlyn, 15, another incoming Park junior. “Without 4-H, we wouldn’t have friends like we have, because 4-H friends are different from friends you meet anywhere else.”

Freyler seconded: 4-H friends are “lifelong friends.”

Honaker thanked the Ohio County 4-H Foundation, the local Community Educational Outreach Service clubs, the Warwood Lions Club, local 4-H clubs and leaders, and individual contributors for helping to raise $4,000 to cover the trip’s costs. The kids also were given some spending money.

“We were all grateful that everything was paid for us and we could afford to go,” Rachel said.

“We’ve been talking about this for months now,” Kaitlyn added.

“And it happened,” Jesse said.

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