By Steve Woodhouse
2012 marks the 20th anniversary of the Marion County Friends of 4-H and Youth Foundation. Over the years, the Foundation has provided thousands of dollars to enrich the lives of Marion County's youth.
Larry Rowley, current chair of the Foundation, said the organization was founded in 1992. At that time, the Legislature made several cuts to Extension funding. Without the Foundation's intervention to keep a youth assistant, Marion County would have lost its 4-H program.
Friends of 4-H group was already in existence, which could donate to students involved in different 4-H activities. There was also a State 4-H Foundation. The local Foundation opened more doors, and earned 501(c)3 nonprofit status.
Over the past 20 years, the Foundation has provided over $38,000 to assist 72 young people who traveled to Washington, D.C. This program is open to 4-H students in high school. The Foundation pays up to half of their expenses.
Rowley said Marion County is able to send more 4-H'ers on these trips than most other Iowa counties. The Foundation has also assisted students with trips to Chicago, St. Louis, Minneapolis and Council Bluffs. The trips, as well as scholarship opportunities, are incentives to keep older youth involved in 4-H.
“As far as numbers go, we're one of the top 4-H programs in the state,” Rowley said.
The Foundation has provided over $70,000 to 212 students over the years. Camp assistance has been provided to over 380 children, totaling over $55,000.
Rowley believes 4-H is valuable because it provides the opportunity for young people to grow, and eventually become leaders. He has watched many Marion County 4-H'ers develop from the youngest member of their group to leading the rest. Some he has seen grow beyond that, into adulthood and other leadership roles.
“4-H is one of the only activities where they get leadership training,” Rowley said. Among the trips taken include those to leadership conferences.
Rowley believes that other organizations in the county are more receptive to youth if it is learned the person has been involved in 4-H. 4-H'ers have a reputation for having not only leadership skills, but morals and integrity.
The Foundation has a few active fund raisers. This includes the selling of bricks, of which hundreds are available, at the Walk of Pride. Benches for the Walk are also available for sale. The Foundation also accepts memorials, endowments, gifts by will and trust, pledges and volunteer assistance.
Past fund raisers have included a Pace Car raffle, celebrity steer show, a pie in the face contest and many others. The Foundation has also been granted the ability to handle camping at the fairgrounds during the fair.
“I think the Fair Board and the campers have been very receptive of that,” Rowley said.
Current Foundation board members include Sue Van Gorp, Chasen Stevenson, Craig Kaisand, Connie Boldt, Sandy Renard, Carol Pearson, Carol Van Dyke, Mindy Kephart, Martha Reed, Teri Frank and Geneva Harrison.
“We're always looking for new, interested board members,” Rowley said.
The most rewarding aspect of being involved with the Foundation, for Rowley, is when he sees the results of the kids' work at the Marion County Fair. When he's out there, he's also found the youth to be active, responsible and courteous. He believes all of them will become excellent future citizens of the United States of America.
For more information on the Foundation, contact Rowley, the Extension office, or another board member.