4-H holds conference in Woodstock

Kayla Eppard, center, 4-H All Star state president, works on a project during a conference in Woodstock on Saturday. Henry Culvyhouse/Daily

WOODSTOCK — More than 80 members of the Virginia “Daughter of the ‘All’ Stars”, an elite 4-H organization, convened at the Holiday Inn Express in Woodstock Saturday for their 2014 Midwinter Conference.

This year was the first time the conference was held in Shenandoah County in 20 years, with 4-H members from 19 counties attending.

The 4-H club is a nationwide youth service organization administered by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture through state cooperative extension to develop citizenship, leadership, responsibility and life skills through various projects based in science, technology, home economics and agriculture.

The Daughter of the All Stars is open for members age 15 to 19 who are heavily involved in the organization, much akin to Eagle Scouts in the Boy Scouts organization. However, some All Stars may have been inducted later in life, by volunteering with their local 4-H when their children or grandchildren were involved.

Kayla Eppard, the president of the Virginia 4-H All Stars and a member of the Greene County chapter, said membership is the “highest honor” a 4-H’er can receive.

“Being an All Star shows the breadth of your involvement with 4-H as well as the depth of your involvement,” Eppard said. “When you’re in All Stars, it’s a way to show you’re extremely involved in 4-H … the people here today are all very passionate about 4-H.”

Bob Meadows, a former 4-H state coordinator and a volunteer with the Frederick County 4-H, said the conference is a way “to bring All Stars back together and get them focused.”

“We want them to think about ways they can service their county 4-H program,” Meadows said. “We’re all about service … we want to refocus on volunteering to help youths.”

At the conference, 4-H’ers performed a service project where they stapled mints into matchboxes for promotional purposes. They also toured the Route 11 Chips facility, Meems Bottom Covered Bridge, Shenandoah Caverns and local Civil War sites, as well as conducted internal business.

Anna Rij, an All-Star since 2005 and the 4-H organizer for Caroline County, said she thinks the conference is a great way for members across generations to get to know one another.

“The older generations who have been a part of All Stars and grew up in the program back in the day can share their stories with all of us who are new and upcoming,” Rij said. “We’re all about service and the service we’re providing here is linking these two different groups.”

Along with generational differences, the conference also offers an opportunity for members in different 4-H groups to share what they have been doing in their local chapters. All 4-H clubs are not the same, Eppard said.

“Each county kind of specializes in different programming,” Eppard said. “Some are agricultural, some are more technological, some are a decent mix.”

Meadow said regardless of what projects 4-Hers are involved in, every organization teaches “responsibility.”

“The project, no matter what it is, an animal, a science experiment, a Civil War project, or whatever it is … those are the tools to help youth to develop responsibility,” Meadow said. “They learn leadership, citizenship and life skills through the projects.”

Things have changed over the years in 4-H, said Carol Nansel, the 4-H organizer for Shenandoah County. She became an All-Star in 1974, where she completed projects in dog care, sewing and photography.

“There’s a lot more choices for kids now, a lot more things to do, so we have to be a lot more creative in what we offer,” Nansel said. “But as far as their interest in leadership and citizenship are concerned, not much has changed.”

Formed in 1914 but with origins dating back to the turn of the last century, 4-H has been a mainstay in counties, towns and cities across the nation. Eppard said one of the reasons for the organization’s staying power is its “inclusive environment.”

“4-H accepts all different kinds of people … we meet many people in 4-H we wouldn’t ordinarily have met outside of it,” Eppard said. “With all the diversity and acceptance, we learn what we have in common is a community of respect, service and involvement in 4-H.”

Meadows said the organization’s focus on youth service makes it an asset to the any community.

“Not every organization develops values and qualities like 4-H does and I believe those values translate out into success in the world,” Meadows said. “Every kid needs a caring adult in their lives and 4-H is one way to provide that.”

Contact staff writer Henry Culvyhouse at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or hculvyhouse@nvdaily.com