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Northwest Kansas shows strong at 4-H Congress

By DIANE GASPER-O'BRIEN

dobrien@dailynews.net

Leigh Ann Maurath admits she learned a lot of life lessons while being home schooled until her junior year in high school in Logan County.

While a lot of those skills were learned on her parents' farm, Maurath credits a good share of her leadership experience to the Monument 4-H Club.

One of those was taking advantage of second chances.

That's exactly what the 2012 Oakley High School graduate did last spring when she found out she had finished second at the state level in her record-keeping for her leadership project.

State winners of the project portfolios are selected to attend the National 4-H Congress, but they can attend only once.

The winner of the leadership portfolio for 2012 had attended Congress before, giving runner-up Maurath the honor of representing Kansas at the annual event in Atlanta during Thanksgiving break.

"We had always filled out the Kansas Award Portfolio every year, because our mom thought it taught us a lot of good lessons," Maurath said of her and her two brothers. "But I had never made it to the interview before last year. That (in itself) was exciting."

Maurath was one of 36 4-H'ers to represent Kansas at Congress, and one of only a handful from the area that attended the leadership conference.

Grace Hammer from Wallace was another northwest Kansas 4-H'er who made the trip, along with Bronc Barrows of WaKeeney and Chris Petty of Hill City -- both agriculture Extension agents -- and Donna Maskus of Hays, a 4-H volunteer.

Applications are reviewed at the county level, with the top choices forwarded to the area level, then to state, where an interview is required.

Maskus was glad Maurath got the opportunity to attend Congress in one of her last tries as a 4-H'er.

"I've been involved with her on planning some area and state events, and she is top-notch," Maskus said. "It's pretty tough to get the chance to go (to Congress)."

To put that in perspective, even with 50 years experience in 4-H -- as a 4-H'er in Pawnee County and as an adult leader and volunteer in Ellis County -- Maskus never had made the trip to the Congress before 2012.

"The adult sponsors (for Congress) are usually (Extension) agents," said Maskus, who earned the lifetime 4-H award at last year's annual state 4-H awards banquet in Manhattan. "There haven't been many volunteers who get the opportunity, so that was a real honor that I was asked to go."

The Congress lists its objectives as "1) to improve the ability of teen 4-H youth to express themselves in written and verbal forms of communication and important 'life skills' for today and in the future; and 2) to increase awareness of the importance of leadership, citizenship and community service in 4-H youth development."

Maskus said Maurath already had high grades in both.

Maurath, president of the Kansas Youth 4-H Leadership Council, also has served as the Kansas 4-H Youth Leadership Forum chairperson, the KYLC state conference public relations director, the northwest area representative and the national 4-H conference delegate.

"It was a really good learning experience," said Maurath, a freshman at Manhattan Christian College, majoring in family ministry and pre-counseling.

"I always thought it was a pretty cool experience, but it's really hard to make it," added Maurath, who is working on a dual degree in public relations from Kansas State University.

Maurath wasn't disappointed.

"The keynote speakers were absolutely fantastic," said Maurath, who said 4-H has "opened numerous doors for me."

"I've had amazing opportunities because of 4-H, whether it was life lessons or interviewing or meeting people," she said. "In college, I got recommended for a job because of my involvement with state 4-H."

Maurath also was one of three Kansas youth selected last summer for a trip to Taiwan with the Kansas Department of Agriculture.

"It wasn't necessarily because of 4-H that I got to go," said Maurath, whose tagline on her email is "Lovin' 4-H."

"But that's how I found out about (the trip)," she added, "so 4-H has been really good to me."