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Middle school sisters practice leadership, service, speaking
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"If you have a free Saturday, you don't have to sit around ‘vegging' out in front of the TV or computer; you can be part of something special in our community," said Kacie Gartner, a Liberty Middle eighth grader.

This Saturday, the Gartner family is cleaning a waterway through Rivers Alive. Last weekend, they collected pop tabs on the square for the Ronald McDonald House, and two weeks ago, they volunteered at the literacy festival.

Will and Sandra Gartner and daughters Kara, Kacie and Kayla have been a part of 4-H since the twins were in fifth grade at Oak Hill Elementary.

"4-H family activities like service projects, the Christmas parade, or shooting sports bring us closer together as a family," said Sandra.
"Especially as they get older and spend more time with friends, it lets them know we're still here for them no matter how old they get," she said.

Kacie said community projects made her want to get more involved, but her mom said the public speaking part of 4-H has made the biggest difference.

"In fourth and fifth grade Kacie was very shy, but now she jumps at any chance for public speaking," said Sandra. "She is usually selected to do introductions at county 4-H events because she pronounces names so well."

Twin sister Kara Gartner said hearing about project achievement during her first 4-H meeting at Oak Hill made her excited. The girls enter the competition annually.

"I placed third overall out of a lot of kids from northwest district 4-H in the veterinary science project last year," said Kara. "Even better than placing was the information I learned while doing research and how it related to my own dog's arthritis."

Yes, even the family dog is a part of 4-H: golden retriever Chewie has his very own 4-H collar.

Sandra said 4-H competitions and social events have given Kara confidence.

"4-H gives Kara a place where she can be herself and not have to worry about what other people think. They just love her for who she is," said Sandra.

Kayla, a seventh grader at Liberty Middle, visited a 4-H club at Oak Hill as a fourth grader.

"I remember thinking it was awesome, and I couldn't wait to get to fifth grade to be able to participate in all the activities," said Kayla.

"The best thing I have done in 4-H, which I am very proud of, is my public speaking project on bullying. Doing the research made me realize how much of a problem bullying is today and made me more aware of what is going on around me," she said.

"And winning first place for that speech was awesome, too!" Kayla added.

In addition to demonstrations and service projects, the girls also compete in livestock judging, poultry judging, forestry field day and shooting sports.

Kacie said "district and state shooting sports and judging competitions are the best, because I have made so many new friends from all over northwest district and the state."

Next month, the girls will attend Junior 4-H Conference at Rock Eagle 4-H Center, thanks to a gift from their grandmother.

Seventh and eighth grade 4-H'ers will participate in statewide service projects, robotics lessons and healthy living activities.

"My friends ask me why I am never home on weekends," said Kayla. "When I tell them all the cool and fun stuff I do because of 4-H, they want to participate, too!"

All three sisters volunteer as 4-H teen leaders and have goals of serving as 4-H district officers or camp counselors and earning Master 4-H status.

Kara hopes her 4-H veterinary project eventually leads to a degree in environmental science and engineering. She is also interested in cryptozoology, the study of animals whose existence has not yet been proven.

Kacie's meteorology project fits her interest in being a meteorologist with the National Weather Service or the National Severe Storms Laboratory.

Kayla, whose last project was on bullying and supporting her peers, hopes to become a special education teacher.

The girls have doubled participation from their school simply by inviting friends to 4-H.

"I bring my friends because they always wonder why I never have time to do things they want me to do," said Kara. "I want them to realize that we can spend time together and have fun while serving our community."