Cornell Cooperative Extension of Chautauqua County's 4-H program announces an exciting endeavor for the future of 4-H. The community is invited to become a part of history by working together to raise $2 million for the Chautauqua County 4-H Endowment Fund.
The 4-H youth program has suffered many financial setbacks in recent years. Once a fully funded program with tax-based funds from the Chautauqua County Legislature, funding was slashed to $25,000 in 2010 and completely eliminated in 2012. Surviving solely on grant support and fundraising in 2012 was stressful for the program and something that 4-H Issue Leader Emily Kidd hopes to never encounter again.
"It is difficult on staff, but very stressful for youth and the volunteers that spend countless hours supporting 4-H and making the programs successful," Kidd said. "It was a year to celebrate because we survived it, but not something I would ever want to face again."
The Lesch Family of Cassadaga presents a $5,000 check for the Chautauqua County 4-H Endowment Fund. Pictured, from left to right, are: Community Foundation Executive Director Randy Sweeney; Chautauqua County 4-H Issue Leader Emily Kidd; Irene Lesch; David Lesch; Adam Lesch; Jacob Lesch; Garrett Lesch; Braden Lesch; John Lesch; and Canadaway Club Leader Heather Lesch.
Kidd has been working diligently with a group of dedicated volunteers to ensure those worries are in the past. One of the steps toward solving future funding problems was establishing an endowment fund with the Chautauqua Region Community Foundation.
"We are impressed with the foundation's commitment to Chautauqua County and confident that an endowment with them will allow the community to give confidently, knowing that their funds will be invested wisely and will secure the highest possible return to support 4-H," she said.
The 4-H Endowment Fund has a goal of $2 million by 2017 with the help of private and public donations. Kidd says with this amount of money, the annual payout will be enough to cover operating costs for future years.
"4-H is an opportunity to engage many local youth that live in rural areas in positive ways," executive director of the Community Foundation Randy Sweeney said. "Their participation in these programs reinforces life skills that will help them succeed later on in life. Their success will benefit the future of our region in ways we can't even imagine. The Community Foundation is proud to partner with 4-H and help them make this $2 million goal a reality."
The county and 4-H supporters are already embracing the endowment concept and commending 4-H on its efforts. The Chautauqua County Legislature reinstated $25,000 in the county budget to help fund 4-H in 2013.
"The decision to create an endowment fund is a very pro-active, forward thinking and practical approach by the leaders of the Chautauqua County 4-H Program," County Executive Greg Edwards said. "It gives them control of their future and ensures that the program continues to play a role in the lives of our County's youth, while at the same time helping the county reduce the tax burden for our residents."
The Ralph C. Sheldon Foundation has also shown support for 4-H by awarding a grant to assist the 2013-15 operating budget. This money will not be a part of the $2 million goal.
"Our Board of Directors felt this was a great way to show our support and help 4-H stay on their feet and focus on the endowment," Sheldon Foundation Executive Director Linda Swanson said.
An organization nationally known for their work with youth, the Chautauqua County 4-H currently serves 466 members between the ages of 5 and 19. Members are provided with over 200 hours of programming options in a variety of disciplines, based on their interests.
"4-H focuses greatly on youth voice," Kidd said. "Youth in local clubs choose together what projects the club members will do for the year and adult leaders help them reach their goals."
With 68 percent of members living in rural areas, 4-H reaches out to those with limited access to youth development and provides them an opportunity to facilitate friendship, independence, generosity and mastery of skills, in a safe environment.
For the Lesch family, as well as many area families, 4-H is more than a program teaching youth responsibility, it's a way of life. In 1937, Henrietta Lesch established the Canadaway 4-H Club. For the past 75 years, her children, grandchildren and now great-grandchildren have been active members of this club.
According to a letter submitted by the family, "In memory of Henrietta Lesch, and all of the other Canadaway leaders who have passed on, and in honor of all the past, present and future Canadaway members and leaders, the David and Irene Lesch Family would like to make a donation to the Chautauqua County 4-H Program."
David, Henrietta's son, and his wife, Irene, own and operate Lesch Farms in Cassadaga. They hope their donation will serve as a, "mustard seed of faith" encouraging others to support a program important to many families in the region.
In addition to one-time contributions, 4-H will use a pledge system, which will allow individuals and organizations to make a contribution every year for five years. They have also implemented four levels of giving to reflect the core values of 4-H. Those levels are as follows: Health, $5,000 and above; Head, $2,500 to $4,999; Hands, $500 to $2,499; and Heart, $250 to $499.
Contributions under $250 may be made payable to the "Friends of 4-H CCE" and may be mailed directly to the 4-H office.
For more information on 4-H youth programming, contact Kidd at 664-9502 ext. 214. For information about the endowment fund, or to make a contribution, contact the Community Foundation at 661-3390.