Photo and caption available
GARDEN CITY, Kan. – For more than three decades, folks in this southwest Kansas community have come to expect a regular influx of immigrants who come to work in the area’s plentiful meat packing and related agricultural industries.
But parents who participated in a pilot 4-H program targeted to Hispanic families in southwest Kansas see their own children’s future much differently.
“We talk to our kids a lot about going to college,” said Flor Rodriquez of Lakin and mother of two. “I want them to learn how to speak in front of people and be leaders in the community; learn how to be with other people.”
Or, Gladis Castro, a mother of three from Cimarron: “4-H has helped me get more involved with my children. It has helped me learn that just because we’re immigrants (to the United States), that doesn’t mean that we can’t go to college.”
Adds Antonio Perez, a grandfather of five in Garden City: “My oldest grandson, he wants to go to college. For these kids, there’s no choice for them. We used to believe if you don’t want to study, then you go to work. Not anymore. For a (Hispanic) kid, you don’t have a choice, you have to go to school.”
Expectations are changing for many in this region, which is well known for its large minority populations. The U.S. Census Bureau recognizes Garden City as a ‘minority-majority’ city, with Hispanic, Somali, Burmese and Asian Americans accounting for nearly 60 percent of the approximately 27,000 residents.
The largest of those groups – about 47 percent -- are recent immigrants from Hispanic countries, mostly Mexico. They were a focus of the pilot 4-H program, which was available for seven weeks this past summer.
“A lot of the families come from areas where education just wasn’t a possibility,” said Debra Bolton, a K-State Research and Extension specialist in southwest Kansas who has studied ethnic populations for more than 20 years. “So first of all, we have to help them understand that education is for everybody, including you. That raises the bar for them, and they are rising up to meet it.”
Bertha Mendoza, who manages the Expanded Food, Nutrition and Education Program (EFNEP) for K-State Research and Extension’s southwest area office, was a key figure in recruiting Hispanic families from EFNEP to the summer’s 4-H program.
“I’ve been working with this population for four years,” Mendoza said. “We noticed the interest in participating in (4-H), but some of the families had misconceptions. They thought it would be very difficult due to the language barrier, and the lack of knowledge (about the program). They thought they had to have certain skills to participate in the program, and there were only certain skills that they could do.”
“So basically it was lack of information in order for us to help them understand what 4-H was all about.”
That changed when K-State Research and Extension hired two bilingual summer interns to carry out a plan forged primarily by Bolton and Mendoza. The interns, both seniors at Kansas State University, routinely talked with parents about what it will take to one day send their kids to college.
“4-H with the Hispanic population is not going to look like traditional 4-H; in this program, the whole family is involved,” Bolton said. “You might do a little bit more beyond the children in youth development; you might do family development, where parents want to work on high school diplomas. You have to work on a lot of different areas besides youth development. That’s where we stray a little bit from the usual 4-H model.”
Still, a common thread is leadership and self-improvement. Fourteen-year-old Miguel Soltero sees himself going to college to study computer engineering. Twelve-year-old Leslie Romero wants to be a lawyer. Eleven-year-old Daniel Castro wants to pursue his interest in cooking.
“There are so many kids that want to go to college,” Romero said. “I’ve heard all my friends say that they want to go and that they’ve been studying a lot. They want to be something in the future, and they want to work really hard.”
Mendoza said the pilot 4-H clubs sought to capitalize on that enthusiasm.
“A lot of these children are very creative, and they really need someone to motivate them,” she said. “We hope to provide that opportunity.”
SIDEBARWheelchair Doesn’t Slow 7-Year-Old 4-Her
GARDEN CITY, Kan. – The look on Martín Hernandez’ face spoke volumes.
The seven-year-old, bound to a wheelchair since he was young, was smiling broadly at a picture of himself riding a horse during a 4-H Showcase celebration at the K-State Research and Extension southwest area office in late July.
“It was fun” riding a horse, Hernandez said.
It was also the culmination of a summer filled with activities for the first-time 4-Her. Meeting with his club twice a week, he learned to make robots and flashlights; visited the county fair and a local farm; and participated in numerous arts and crafts and cooking activities – just like all the other ‘big’ kids.
“My son is very happy now,” said Martín’s mother, Petra Hernandez. “Before he participated in this program, he was going to see a psychologist because he was falling into a depression. Now, he talks about the new friends he made in the program, the activities they’ve been doing, and how he has enjoyed all the activities.
“This program,” she added, her voice cracking, “has been very valuable for us. We found an answer to the situation that we were going through.”
She added that Martín anxiously awaits Tuesdays and Thursdays, the days the club meets. He readily repeats the names of his new friends and talks about how they help him.
Asked what he thinks about 4-H, he says: “I love it.”