4-H Youths Welcome Montana Friends
By Rick Hiduk
In the summer of 2010, twenty-two Bradford County youths travelled to Flathead County, Montana, to meet and stay with an equal number of their colleagues as part of a 4-H exchange program. In addition to visiting farms and getting a glimpse of how agriculture fits into the Flathead County community, the Pennsylvania 4-H members took part in many activities in Glacier National Park, including white-water rafting.
Last week, the Bradford County teens had an opportunity to host the 4-H members they had met the previous year when the Montana group arrived in the area on June 22 for a one-week stay at the homes of their respective buddies. Despite any number of things that might have prevented an exact pairing of the same youths, just one of the Montana members, who was in Europe last week as part of an international 4-H program, was unable to make the trip to Pennsylvania.
Local 4-H member Adrielle Blemle of Wyalusing relished the opportunity to show her Montana counterpart, Kate Lamm, her home and state. The two, who each have one brother, have stayed in touch regularly since their meeting last year.
“We texted and Skyped a lot,” said Adrielle. “We’re really close.”
“We’re going to each other’s weddings,” joked Kate, who said that the 4-H exchange program suits her preference for more intimate travel. “I don’t like touristy travel experiences,” she explained. “I like meeting a family and seeing how they live.”
“They look forward to doing anything that is new,” said Flathead County 4-H extension agent Karole Sommerfield, who was one of about a half-dozen adult chaperones to accompany the youths to French Azilum on June 23, where the teens ate a picnic lunch in the pavilion before embarking on a kayak trip on the Susquehanna River past Wyalusing to Endless Mountain Outfitters. Sommerfield related that she had participated in exchange programs when she was a young girl, and she was instrumental in bringing the program back to her home county’s 4-H group because she wanted the youths there to share similar experiences.
“(The exchange program) provides opportunities for life-skills development and forging lifetime friendships,” Sommerfield remarked. “Traveling with friends is different than traveling with family. They get to acclimate to a new home, and, with texting these days, it’s easy for them to stay in touch.”
The Montana group has also participated in similar two-year rotations with 4-H groups in Texas and Kansas, while, according to Bradford County adult leader Valerie Millard, the Bradford County youths traveled to Utah and Wisconsin prior to participating in the exchange with the Montana group. The youths’ action-packed agenda this past week included a tour of the historic Keystone Theatre in Towanda and a screening of the current film, “Mr. Popper’s Penguins;” a chicken barbecue and potluck dinner at Millard’s home; community service projects at Bradford County Manor, Bradford County Library, and Northern Tier Solid Waste; a picnic at Mt. Pisgah County Park; a tour of local farms; a pizza party at the Bimford home; a trip to the Williamsport Little League World Series Museum and Penn’s Cave and Animal Park; a day devoted to the interests of the youth’s respective host families and a day at Hersheypark and Chocolate World. At French Azilum, board member and volunteer Elaine Silverstrim made a brief presentation about the site’s history and encouraged the youths to look for bald eagle-in-residence Elizabeth through a high-powered telescope.
One of the key differences between Pennsylvania and Montana mentioned by several of the 4-H members who were interviewed is the topography. Our Endless Mountains are merely rolling hills to the Montana youths, although they found the broad valleys and watershed to be beautiful. Conversely, the Bradford County teens recalled being awestruck by Montana’s sharp, snow-covered peaks. The air also tends to be thinner there, a dissimilarity to which some of the Montana group members found somewhat uncomfortable to assimilate.
“It’s humid here,” said Sarah Kirchner of Montana, who was staying with Deanna Lamphere in Monroeton. Sarah pointed to the diversity of the Bradford County landscape and related that she was looking forward to getting onto the river. Deanna noted that, while the water in the Susquehanna is generally temperate by late June, the glacial-fed streams on which she rafted in Montana last year were “freezing cold.”
Montana 4-H member Morgan Marvin was also eager to get onto the river with Bradford County buddy Nick Pepper of West Franklin, though Aaron Schultz of Monroeton, who was sitting at the same picnic table with his Montana counterpart, Arron Burns, informed the exchange guests that the trip through Wyalusing was going to be more of a paddle than a float. “The river’s pretty lazy here,” he remarked in contrast to Montana’s fast-flowing mountain streams.
Morgan had already noticed that dairy farming appeared to be the predominant agricultural business in Bradford County, an observation that was at the core of an exchange program that he said provides both an educational and a cultural exchange.
“You get to know that 4-H isn’t just happening where you are,” he stated. “You get to see different types of agriculture and how things are done in different places.”
“I would never have been able to go to Montana if it wasn’t for the exchange program,” Deanna concurred. “It (involves) a lot of responsibility, because you have to raise your own money for the trip.”
Some of the Montana 4-H members joked that the Bradford County youths had jinxed their travel plans, as both groups shared the distinction of being stuck for a while at Chicago’s O’Hare airport by disconnected flights.
Bradford County 4-H is coordinated by the Penn State Cooperative Extension Office in Towanda. For more information about opportunities in the organization for area youths, interested readers may call 570-265-2896.