Julian Avila held the microphone up and started telling the younger club members about his role as president of the Verde Clovers 4-H Club. He told them his job was to lead and plan activities for the group.
“If you guys have anything you want to talk about, just ask me and we can talk about it as a group and decide on what we want to do,” Avila told them.
Avila then translated the idea of his statement to Spanish.
“Las decisiones que quiero tomar es hablar más con el grupo y tener decisiones con todo el grupo que participe,” he said.
The Verde Clovers are a new 4-H club in Riley County that emphasizes the importance of diversity by encouraging its members to practice using Spanish and English.
After the club’s officers told the younger members about their leadership roles — president, vice president, treasurer and secretary — the younger members took turns telling the group about a subject of their choice and asking questions about their subject. The goal of the exercise during their monthly meeting on Monday night was to practice public speaking.
Donna Rodriguez, 10, told the club about her pet beagle.
“Some information about beagles is they are great sniffers,” Rodriguez said. “One of my questions is, ‘How do you train your dog?’ My second one is, ‘How do you make your dog be quiet?’” “Alguna información de Beagles es son buenos cazadores (hunters),” she said, translating the idea of her English statement. “Una de mis preguntas es, como tu entrenas tu perro? Mi segunda es, como haces tu perro callarse?”
Aliah Mestrovich Seay, one of four volunteer leaders, said the goals for the club are to promote culturally sensitive programming and have the members be proud of who they are and boost their cultural self-esteem by embracing their language, cultural values and beliefs.
Mestrovich Seay speaks English and French, and Spanish is her third language. Her husband speaks Thai. Ruddy Benavides, also a volunteer leader, speaks Spanish and English.
Juan Avila, 11, club treasurer, said the multilingual activities have made him more confident.
“We always do things in English and sometimes Spanish so we can have a better feeling of doing Spanish and not being afraid to speak Spanish and not be afraid of your culture,” he said. Club members also learn about other languages and cultures. The children learned Chinese words and games and about Chinese culture a few months ago, when a guest from the Confucius Institute visited. The Confucius Institute is an organization at K-State that is affiliated with the Chinese Ministry of Education and promotes Chinese language and culture.
“We aren’t just catering to Latino families,” Benavides said. “It’s a multilingual, multicultural club. Anybody who wants to join can join. Anybody who wants to learn about other cultures, wants to meet other people, wants to try new things, we try to bring as much diversity to the club as we can.”
Benavides said the leaders are keeping the roots of 4-H clubs while also adapting to the needs of the club’s members. Latin culture is really family oriented, so Benavides said they knew the parents and siblings would come.
“We welcome them,” Benavides said. “We knew they were going to come because it’s a family thing, and when they came, now it’s just a matter of figuring out how do we get them involved?”
As in other 4-H clubs, the club leaders leave it to the children to take responsibility and make decisions. Benavides said she wants the children to figure out for themselves how they can get involved with the community.
“We’re trying to get them to become independent to where they can just have their own discussions, be a democracy and figure out what they want to do with their money, what they want to do with their trips and their free time” Benavides said.
Julian Avila, 14, said he decided to take responsibility as president because he’s one of the oldest members of the club. He said being a new club, they’re still figuring out how to raise money to plan educational activities.
“Right now we need a little bit more funds so we have opportunities for transportation for the kids that need it, and field trips, educational field trips,” he said.
Maria Olague, a mother of three of the club’s members, including Donna Rodriguez, said the trips the club takes encourage the children to do well in school and make attending college a goal.
“That’s the best,” Olague said in Spanish. “It’s a great stimulus for them to want to study.”
Rodriguez, who is a student at Bluemont Elementary School, said she strives to get good grades. She said being in the club and learning about college has taught her that she is going to have to work harder in college. She also said practicing her Spanish has helped her appreciate her culture.
“It’s funner because I could speak (Spanish) and nobody else can,” Rodriguez said. “I feel like an individual.”
Editor’s note: Reporter Stephanie Casanova conducted some of the interviews for this story in Spanish and translated some of the quotes.