4-H ‘true leaders’ across Michigan assist in rangeland wildfire disaster relief
Early in March, regions of Colorado, Oklahoma, Kansas and Texas were devastated by high winds and uncontrollable wildfires. With vast areas of grassland for grazing cattle destroyed, ranchers in that region struggled to feed and care for their livestock. Seeing a critical need, Michigan 4-H’ers across the state stepped up to show their support and provide relief.
In April, Michigan State University Extension Michigan 4-H clubs and communities in more than 10 counties provided an outpouring of disaster relief and support for the ranchers in need. These efforts included setting up collections for items such as feed, fencing and milk replacer, hosting bake sales to generate funds for other needed items, packing lunches and loading supplies for truckers making supply runs, and organizing fundraisers to support service trips to Kansas and Oklahoma.
In Sanilac County, farmers and 4-H youth collected enough donations to load more than 80 semi-trucks with hay, as well as additional loads of milk replacer for orphaned calves, salt blocks and many other needed supplies. However, the youth were eager to do more, and thus a service project was organized.
“I’m really proud of these kids,” said Colleen Wallace, MSU Extension 4-H program coordinator in Sanilac County. “They wanted to help these farmers who’ve lost everything to the fires, and they stepped up.”
During the weekend of April 7-10, SanilacCounty 4-H transported 46 youth from Sanilac and surrounding counties to Ashland, Kansas. Under the supervision of 14 adult volunteers, the 4-H’ers worked to build fences, haul firewood, clear debris and assist in any way possible.
“I had a great time going out there helping the Filson Farm, who was affected by the wildfire,” said Brady Zettle, a 15-year-old 4-H’er from Ogemaw County. “This opportunity allowed me to use my hands for larger service, just like the 4-H pledge says. I have always loved to volunteer, but this trip changed me and makes me want to help others more. The people out there were so kind and grateful to us.”
“I loved being able to help the ranchers and listen to their stories,” said Riley Wallace, an 11-year-old 4-H’er from St. Clair County. “I liked seeing the communities come together and work on things.”
Youth from other counties also headed west to support the wildfire relief efforts. During the week of April 2, 10 Clinton County 4-H youth and four volunteers traveled to Knowles, Oklahoma, where they rebuilt a chicken coop for a local widow, built fence, cleared debris and helped out in other ways.
“I wanted to help the farmers out west to help ease their pain and make a difference in their lives,” said Lillie Decker, a 13-year-old ClintonCounty 4-H’er. “I had a barn fire a few years ago, and I know firsthand how it feels. People came from all over, and I learned that when you help people in need, it makes a big difference in their lives.”
Joining Sanilac and Clinton County youth in their wildfire relief efforts were 4-H’ers from Allegan, Barry, Bay, Branch, Dickinson, Iosco, Lapeer, Mecosta, Oakland and Shiawassee counties. From collecting donations and fundraising to various other acts of service, these Michigan 4-H’ers joined 4-H youth across the country in a monthlong volunteer initiative known as 4-H True Leaders in Service. This nationwide activation seeks to empower 4-H youth to roll up their sleeves and demonstrate the positive impact that 4-H’ers can and do have in their communities every day.
Though the April celebration of service is over, Michigan 4-H’ers plan to continue their True Leader efforts by supporting the wildfire relief throughout the summer. In July, approximately 40 youth and 16 adult volunteers from Mecosta County will make the trip to Ashland to support area ranchers as they rebuild their operations.