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National Conference: Experience of a Lifetime. By: Ashley Sloan, Indiana County

Posted: May 18, 2011

On April 2, 2011, I left for a trip that I wasn't sure how it was going to turn out - National 4-H Conference. I knew I would learn some new skills and make some new friends, but I never imagined it would end like this.

We left from Penn State University as a van full of strangers on our way to Washington D.C. We stopped to pick up our last passenger at the PA Farm Show Complex, leaving the van with eight people and a BUNCH of luggage … and a very tight fit! I guess you could say we got to know each other very well in those few hours of driving. The first night was full of meeting our roommates from different states, participating in the pin exchange, and having a little fun with our states. In my room, we were all strangers even though there were two of us from PA. By the end of the week Caroline, Lillian, Aubrey, and I were not ready to go back to Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, and Kentucky.
      While participating in the pin exchange, I was able to collect roughly 30 pins from all over the United States and meet a lot of new people. The following day I got to see some of the people I met the night before in the leadership workshops that I attended. There were workshops such as Advocacy and Decision Making. After our workshops we were sent to “round tables”. In these groups of 16 we were each given a different social issue to discuss. My group was faced with Underage Alcohol Prevention. We had to find answers to four questions on the gaps that we see in the government plans for this that already exists. After we identified the gaps, we created our own solution to them. Our solution needed to include 4-H but also be something that would be possible. The solution we created was to create a National 4-H Alcohol Prevention Council. This council will allow a representative from each county to be sent to a state board, regional board, and then a representative to the national meeting. We were able to present our solution to SAMSHA (a branch of the Dept. of Health). We were told that they are considering our plan for this! This was a big deal for us because a weeks’ worth of work got us to a national solution to be put in place.

The week was not just full of hard work and learning in our workshops. We had Monday to be on the town. We explored the Smithsonian and the Air and Space Museum, and then attempted to head to Arlington Cemetery.  On our way to our final destination we realized that none of us have a sense of direction and ended up on the Metro for almost an hour. When we finally arrived at the correct stop, it was time to head to our dinner reservations. We had a lot of fun on the town and even made it back to our buses before they left to go back to the National 4-H Center, which was our home for the week. Our next day was full of working and preparing for our presentations to SAMSHA. On Wednesday, we got to give our final product (a presentation and document) to the people that mattered. It was a lot of fun, and we got to meet some interesting people. Following this, we headed to Capital Hill where the PA delegates congregated back up and went to visit our respective representatives. With another loss of the sense of direction, we got the 360 degree view of the Capital Building. Garrett and I got to meet with the assistant of Bill Shuster because Congressman Shuster was in Congress deciding on an important bill. We discussed some important issues and shared some 4-H stories. After all the business was done, we explored the town again. This led us the most exciting part of the trip in my opinion … the Clover Cruise. We spent four hours full of dancing and dinning on the Spirit of Vienna on the Potomac River. This was the most fun but also the saddest part of the trip. As we docked back up we had to say good bye to all of our friends from across the nation and hope that we will meet up again.
      As we left as strangers on April 2, we returned as lifelong friends with our heads full of new knowledge. This trip brought a lot of memories that I know I will never forget. We even got the definition of 4-H burned into our heads (Thanks Mya!). I strongly encourage anyone that wants to have a great time, meet new friends, learn a lot of new things, and have unforgettable memories to apply in 2012 for the National 4-H Conference!