The Oregon County 4-H Club is working to make area youth more aware of the career opportunities in rural communities. The Youth ExCEL and Youth Summit programs are two ways that 4-H leaders are getting their message out.
Youth ExCEL (Experience in Community Enterprise and Leadership) helps develop an understanding of Oregon County's assets and issues, enhances people skills, provides opportunity for personal growth, promotes team building, encourages creative thinking and promotes youth civic engagement. The ExCEL program is open to any students in grades 11 or 12 in Oregon County. It is also open to any employee of a local business or business owner in West Plains. This program is possible through a Missouri Homegrown Community Leaders grant.
The three month program begins with retreats in March. The adult retreat will be held at Dawt Mill, and the youth retreat will be in Roach. Throughout the three month period, educational meetings and tours are provided for the participants. Issues such as poverty, regional economic issues and education challenges and opportunities are presented by local residents who are knowledgeable about the topics.
In March, the program offers a tour of business in Alton and Myrtle. Central Ozark Machine, McClain Forest Products, the Courthouse, Shepherd's View, Myrtle Feed and Fertilizer, Newman's Farm and Wicker's are local businesses that Extension Agent Scott Greer has lined up. In April, tours of Thayer Redi-Mix, Hirsch Feed, Langley Animal Clinic, Thayer Housing, K Kountry95, BUB Ranch and Koshkonong Timber Production are being given to the program participants.
Greer, who coordinates local 4-H programs, says the goal of the tours is to show that there are people who have started and maintained successful businesses in Oregon County. "Our goal is to turn around this trend where our kids graduate from school and we never see them again. In order for our economy to grow, it's going to take imaginations and ingenuity of the young people," Greer said. Ready Transportation of Alton provides transportation for the tours.
Greer is taking early registrations for the ExCEL program. Participants must be registered by Feb. 15. The ExCEL program is $350 for youth and adult participants, which includes retreat fees, and an overnight trip to the Capitol Plaza Hotel and tour of the Capitol in Jefferson City. "There are partial scholarships. I don't want money to be a reason someone doesn't apply," Greer said.
This is the first time that Oregon County has been involved in the ExCEL program. It is a statewide program, that has just been extended to youth participants.
The Youth Summit program is funded by the same grant as the Youth ExCEL. It is a free program for students in grades 9 through 12 in Oregon County. It is a one day workshop that will be held in January.
Greer said that there will be a keynote speaker, along with five planned modules. There will be someone from the career fields of Computer Simulation, Law, Precision Agriculture, Industrial Arts and Healthcare. "There will be welding and construction for the Industrial Arts, Nursing for Healthcare, a mock trial and, hopefully, a state trooper and drug dog for Law and a demonstration on automation of tractors for Precision Agriculture. "We just want to show the kids what is out there. We want to spark an interest and get them to think about preparations for after high school," Greer said.
Greer wants to encourage area civic leaders to get involved in the programs which are trying to motivate youth. "This is about exposing them to science and technology, and all the different trends in which our nation is headed. It gives them something that maybe they didn't think of before," Greer said. The ultimate goal of all the programs is to develop leaders. "We need to give them the tools and education to be leaders. It will be a day of fun to explore different things," Greer added.
For the schools, Greer said the grant will offset fuel transportation costs for the Youth Summit event. "Our hope is that kids who get involved in the Youth Summit go into Youth ExCEL," Greer said.
4-H leaders say it is important to start building leadership and education at an early age. "We need adults to get involved with 4-H. We have kids in the Couch and Koshkonong areas that want to be involved in 4-H but there is no one to be the adult leader," Greer said.
The 4-H organization is preparing to start a shooting sports program in January. "We are doing archery first because I'm certified," Greer said. "We need volunteers for people who are willing to help with supervision and get certified for other divisions so we can have the shotgun, rifle and pistol, muzzleloader. We meet once or twice a month to hold shoots," Greer said. The shooting sport program gives kids the chance to compete in state matches and even national competition.
The future of 4-H youth programs depend on help from Oregon County adults. If you are interested in becoming a volunteer, contact Scott Greer at the University of Missouri Extension Office in Oregon County. The number is (417) 778-7490.