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New Wadena 4-H coordinator expands programming

Growing up in New York Mills, Virginia Hendrickx was active in 4-H, showing horses, rabbits and chickens.

That experience inspired her to attend the University of Minnesota-Crookston, where in 2010, she received degrees in ag business and ag education. After a few years in crop insurance, she returned to 4-H about two months ago as the program's first full-time coordinator in Wadena County in more than a decade.

"I've come full circle," Hendrickx said.

The four H's stand for head, heart, health and hands. The statewide program from the University of Minnesota extension service offers nearly 70 types of projects, from aerospace to youth leadership. In the Wadena area, there are local clubs in Bertha-Hewitt, Bluffton, Wadena, Staples, Menagha and Sebeka.

"4-H is what you make it, you can tailor it to what you want it to be," Hendrickx said. "The options are really endless."

Many people don't realize that 4-H involves more than showing livestock at county fairs, she said. Although that's a popular part of the program, 4-H is a more comprehensive celebration of science.

At an April event, Wadena 4-Hers will explore the science of music, trying to build a xylophone out of PVC piping.

"We're just trying to show (kids) there is science in everything," Hendrickx said.

Hendrickx is the third person to serve as Wadena 4-H coordinator in the past year. The high turnover, she said, was due in part to the position being part-time. Before hiring her, the county board voted to fund a full-time position.

"If I wasn't full-time, I don't think I would have accomplished much at this point," Hendrickx said.

County commissioner Rodney Bounds said having a full-time coordinator will mean more 4-H programming for youth, which helps develop engaged citizens.

"It's a different avenue of learning for kids besides the school setting," he said.

Hendrickx leads "mad scientist" themed classes each month for elementary-age students in Menagha and Sebeka. During a recent class, students made flubber, while Hendrickx provided a simple explanation of polymers.

On March 25, she will launch a recycling and reusing themed class for kindergarten through 4th graders at Wadena-Deer Creek. "Green Adventures" will meet each Tuesday for six weeks. One week, kids will make bouncy balls out of items found in the kitchen. Another week, they'll weave jump ropes out of garbage bags.

Hendrickx also plans to organize several day camps for this summer, including the popular MinnAqua fishing camp.

On Monday at the extension service office, a group of student leaders known as 4-H ambassadors made survival bracelets. In case of emergency, the bracelets easily unravel into nine feet of rope.

"Everything I do is 4-H related," said Kayla Trout, a Menagha High School freshman who's involved in 4-H leadership, photography and baking programs. "It's my life."

Even though he's only a 7th grader at Bertha-Hewitt, Jesse Collins is already a 4-H ambassador. He's also been involved in the dairy, chicken, alpaca, photography and wildlife biology projects.

"We start them young," Hendrickx said.

Another ambassador, Sebeka sophomore Madison Snyder, said 4-H has taught her valuable leadership and organizational skills. "I feel like you use it in your everyday life."

For Hendrickx, 4-H taught perseverance. She recalled getting a second-tier red ribbon at her first county fair because she didn't properly identify the gender of the rabbit she was showing.

"Sometimes you learn more from a red ribbon than a blue ribbon," Hendrickx said. "It's OK to learn from the minor setbacks. It encourages you to try harder, do better the next year."