It’s a bitterly cold February day and a dozen rural high school kids are wandering the aisles of a Safeway in Winnipeg.
Their task: Stick to a very tight budget, buy healthy food, and get a feel for a student’s lifestyle.
The trip to the grocery store is part of their orientation as participants in City Survival Weekend, an annual event run by 4-H Ambassadors. Each year around this time, these young ambassadors — farm and small-town kids now attending university in the big city — host their younger peers from clubs around the province.
It’s fun and an eye-opener, say participants such as Janelle Gobin of St. Claude.
The 17-year-old attended the event last year — “mostly to have fun and meet people.” But this time around, it’s serious business because graduation and a move to Winnipeg is looming larger now, said the Grade 11 student.
“This year I plan to be nerdy and get the notebook out and write down the numbers,” said Gobin.
City Survival weekend began 1984 and its sponsor, the 4-H Manitoba Council, estimates about 345 kids have taken part in it over the years. It’s a grassroots program, developed and led by the 4-H Ambassadors, an initiative begun in 1979 by former 4-H’ers who wanted to continue their association with the provincial program. There’s been a few years when there weren’t enough interested kids to run the weekend, but most years there’s a dozen to 20 participants and sometimes turnout hits 30.
Moving to the city can be a bit overwhelming, said Kiah Helgason-Stoyanowski, a second-year University of Manitoba student.
“Lots of people who grow up on farms don’t come to the city very often,” she said. “City Survival gives them a sense of what it’s going to be like when you move there.”
The weekend program covers a lot of ground. By Sunday, they’ll have toured campuses, gone over the basic cost of living (including how to eat well on a small budget), compared the pros and cons of getting an apartment versus living in residence, received tips on dealing with roommates, and talked about personal security needs in a city of strangers.
City Survival is one more way 4-H tries to meet its young members’ needs in life skills and personal development, said Megan Sprung, a rural specialist for 4-H and youth with Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives (MAFRI) rural leadership specialist (4-H and Youth).
“We would hope that it gives them a feeling of confidence and independence that they might not otherwise have gained,” said Sprung, who herself attended the orientation in 2000.
4-H in the city
Forging links between 4-H’ers who’ve departed for the city also benefits 4-H, which is wrestling with the issue of a declining rural population and is considering planting a 4-H program in the city, too.
“I think everyone realizes we have to grow the program,” said Clayton Robins, executive director of the Manitoba 4-H Council.
“The rural demographic of members who would be eligible to belong is shrinking all the time.”
It will take people with a passion for 4-H to build that urban presence, he said.
Manitoba is piloting a Future Leaders project at the University of Manitoba that is examining how to offer structured leadership skills development and training to university students, said Robins.
“We expect we could be getting students on these campuses joining 4-H for the first time if students see the value of this,” he said.
“Our goal is that people who come out of these campus clubs would be potentially a new generation of 4-H leaders.”
Gobin, who has held every office in the Home Economics 4-H club in her hometown, thinks she’d like to be one of them. She plans on becoming a 4-H Ambassador and wants to stay connected to the club after university.
“I really like teaching, although not in a classroom,” she said. “And I totally want to encourage people to take 4-H.”
4-H Manitoba is gearing with the rest of the country to celebrate the 100th anniversary of 4-H in 2013. This is an occasional feature focusing on the program and its achievements in its Manitoba birthplace.
“Lots of people who grow up on farms don’t come to the city very often. City Survival gives them a sense of what it’s going to be like when you move there.”