True 4-H science teen leaders: Van Buren Voyagers 4-H Club

Van Buren County has a 4-H club of true 4-H science teen leaders, the Voyagers.

Van Buren Voyagers 4-H Club
Members of the Van Buren Voyagers 4-H Club: (left to right) Caidance Schultz, Amanda Towne, Blake Towne, Meredith Overacker, Carey Towne and Katie Leftwich.

In 2016, the Michigan State University Extension article “True 4-H science teen leaders: Allegan County” was the first in a series featuring “True 4-H Science Teen Leaders” from around the state of Michigan. The series has continued highlighting 4-H members in every MSU Extension district doing amazing things in the area of 4-H science literacy. Individual teens have been featured working in a variety of 4-H science project areas including animal science, livestock, dairy, beef, swine and lamb, poultry, companion animals, Tech Wizards, technology and engineering, robotics, renewable energy, environmental and outdoors, and even how to show a tarantula. A pre-teen has been featured and even groups of teens like those in St. Joseph County. 4-H teen leaders doing amazing things in the science areas have been recognized from every 4-H county in Michigan.

In District 13, there is an entire 4-H club that stands out in the area of conservation sciences in Van Buren County 4-H that is made up of very inspirational 4-H teen leaders. This club of true 4-H science leaders” is the Voyagers 4-H Club.

Denise Noble, club leader, shared information about the Envirothon group. The Van Buren Voyagers 4-H Club has expanded the traditional 4-H image of animal science to include conservation sciences. In 2018, a six-member Voyagers team immersed themselves in studying the subjects agriculture, wildlife, forestry, aquatic ecology and energy sciences to participate in the Michigan Association of Conservation District’s Envirothon competition. In March 2018, they competed at regionals and took first place in Region 4. Being ranked sixth in the state, they competed at the state finals in Lake Ann, Michigan, and the team earned two silver (Community Outreach Project and Soils/Geology) and one bronze (Energy) medals.

The Van Buren Voyagers 4-H Club was formed in 2014 in an effort to combine shooting sports, Project F.I.S.H. and Outdoor Adventure Challenge activities under one Michigan 4-H club. In addition to combining activities, the organization’s goal is to focus on conservation education and community involvement. Each month, guest speakers and presenters share their knowledge with 4-H members. Prior topics/speakers have included: Wilderness First Aid, Women’s Water Walk, Herpetology, Geology, Michigan Whitetails, Metal Detecting, Worm Composting, Venison Processing, Trout Unlimited, Ducks Unlimited, Wild Turkey Federation, Wild Ones Pollinators, Two Rivers Coalition, Pheasants Forever, West Michigan Coastal Kayaking, Wildlife Careers, Kalamazoo Astronomical Society, Michigan State House Representative, Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Van Buren County Sheriff Marine Division, Backyard Composting, and Lake Milton Raptor Rescue.

The Voyager’s 4-H Club echoes the Michigan Department of Natural Resources motto, “No Child Left Inside,” and is constantly seeking different ways for children to engage in natural environments. Youth routinely engage in camping, fishing, canoeing, orienteering, rock climbing, shooting sports and hiking activities throughout the year. In 2014, multiple members participated in the EAA Young Eagles fly-in opportunity, taking their view of the environment to the sky in aviation science. In 2014 and 2016, members participated in beginner scuba training, learning to experience the environment from underwater. In 2016, members traveled to Blue Springs Caves, Indiana, to spend an overnight in the caverns, learning about the sport of spelunking and cavern environmental habitats.

In 2017, members traveled to Ohio to the International Bigfoot Conference, participating in seminars and educational trainings to learn more about cryptozoology and animal forensic investigation techniques. Also in 2017, the group embarked upon an educational trip on the Friends Goodwill tall ship, learning about the Great Lakes and the technical skills and scientific applications of sailing. In 2015 and 2017, youth served as trainers and students at SMORES (Southwest Michigan Outdoor Recreational Education Symposium) in Greenville, Michigan, where like-minded 4-H conservationists came together to learn about historical fur traders, flint knapping, raptors, Leave No Trace, archery, entomology, fishing, wilderness survival, wild edibles, bird watching, orienteering, water ecology, forestry, backpacking, medicinal plants, woodworking and invasive species.

Members at table
Members during the Envirothon regionals: (Left to right) Blake Towne, Amanda Towne, Katie Leftwich, Meredith Overacker, Carey Towne and Caidance Schultz.

As part of the Envirothon competition, Voyagers must develop, implement and present on a community outreach project. For 2018, the Voyagers 4-H Club partnered with local organizations to offer a one-day outdoor fair for youth with special needs—OAKS (Outdoor Adventure for Kids with Special Needs). Special needs children ages 5-26 enjoyed the wilderness of 4-H Camp Kidwell in Allegan County while engaging in hands-out activities involving archery, BB gun, Bigfoot lore, camping, backpacking, campfire lunch, fishing rod casting and water biology, a frog jump/turtle race, horseback riding, musical entertainment, insects, trees/forestry, fossil geology, climbing wall, water-fowl, water safety, and wildlife sensory stations.

Members recognize that due to limitations, special needs children may not be encouraged to go outside. This is unfortunate because nature may be just the right prescription to improve their health. While outside, a person’s mind is in a relaxed natural space and involuntary attention takes over so that the brain can rest and refresh itself. Studies show that engaging in nature positively changes the mental, emotional and physical systems of the human body. Voyagers is hosting OAKS to encourage special needs children to experience nature and continue using ecotherapy in their daily lives. The hope is that OAKS will instill a sense of conservancy in these very special young people that will develop their interest in natural sciences.

Members of Voyagers and their Envirothon team have been enrolled in 4-H for a variety of years. While some members come from primarily animal backgrounds with many years in 4-H, other members were attracted to Voyagers just for its environmental focus and are relatively new to 4-H. Members of the Envirothon team are chosen from Voyagers youth who are dedicated to learning about the environment, want to share that information with other club members, the community and are willing to engage in study sessions and competitions. They must be in seventh to 12th grade and be age 13. The majority of Envirothon members are also teen leaders and club officers in Voyagers.

Each year, Voyagers youth join with the Van Buren Conservation District to collect stream water and study the macroinvertebrates to determine water quality. They are proud to continue that relationship with the Van Buren Conservation District serving as their mentor and coach in the Envirothon project. Beginning in 2017, Voyagers partnered with the Paw Paw Conservation Club to develop, plant and maintain a pollinator garden on the Club’s property.

The Voyagers 4-H Club will also be partnering with the following organizations to ensure that OAKS is a success at no cost to participants: Project F.I.S.H., Kal-Haven Lions Club, 4-H Camp Kidwell, Moment of Magic, Wild Ones Pollinators, Van Buren Conservation District, Ducks Unlimited, Project Learning Tree, Geoscapes Rocks, Van Buren County Sheriff’s Marine Division, Kalamazoo Nature Center, Safari Club International, Wahmhoffs Nursery, Michigan DNR and Whistler Farms.

To be better equipped to share educational experiences with others, youth were trained as educators in Project Learning Tree and Project WILD.

In the area of conservation sciences, Van Buren County 4-H has true 4-H science leaders’ in the Voyagers 4-H Club.

Michigan 4-H is proud to be part of the National 4-H tradition of supporting and growing true leaders. The next generation of empowered true 4-H science leaders continues growing in Michigan!

Michigan 4-H has many 4-H science programming areas for youth to explore. Science is everywhere with many questions to ask and discoveries to be made. For more information about 4-H learning opportunities and other 4-H programs contact your local MSU Extension office.

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