Hi my name is Kendall French. I am 16 years old and have been going to 4-H camp every year starting when was nine years old making this upcoming summer my ninth. If involved in it this summer as I hope to be it will be my fifth year involved in the Ropes Course.

4-H has always been the highlight of my summer and not only have I made lifelong friends, but I have learned many life lessons from working with people of all ages, and the experiences cultivated here at 4-H.

The ropes course is unlike any other experience. I have always loved adrenaline fueled activities but this is so much more than that. When up on the ropes by yourself, although there are others around such as the staff member waiting on the platform or the spotters who helped you get up there in the first place, there is just this completely blissful feeling of being alone and at one with the world. The ropes course is a place where you have to be responsible and trusting in everyone who is around you. Whether on high ropes you are the one climbing or only spotting it is important that both ways you use your voice. You have to become a leader in order for the environment to be as safe as possible.

 The most rewarding experience I’ve had on the ropes course so far came two summers ago. A girl who signed up for the course did not think she would be scared of the high ropes but became terrified at the thought of being so far up in the air once she saw them. Everyone in the class was very encouraging and kept attempting to persuade her but she wouldn’t budge. I couldn’t stand to see her frightened of something that had given me so much joy over the years and helped me learn so much about myself and really emerge as a leader. Over the final few days of camp I made a deal with her, if I would attempt the vine walk blindfolded and make it across then she would try the ropes of her choice and see if she could also get across. The Fauquier County agent Doug Harpole came down on the day that I attempted it blindfolded and got pictures of the ordeal. The following day the girl attempted the eagle walk and to her delight found that the ropes were not so scary at all and made it across. The most rewarding part for me was to see this girl who seemed so shy at first and not very social get such joy out of overcoming her challenges and when she got down get the complete support of the entire class and finally seem at ease in the presence of the boys and girls she saw just a day before as so courageous to a level that she achieve.

The amazing part about a thing such as ropes is that no matter whether it is high ropes or low ropes it can turn even the bitterest of enemies into best friends. Through the low ropes there is usually an objective such as getting through a spider web or swinging over an imaginary fire on a rope that has a surprise twist at the end. With nobody expecting it, it takes everyone to work together to think of a solution. Through my observance it seems that the answer is not usually from one particular individual, but a combination of most of the people who have put input in.

Through 4-H I have grown as a leader for myself, my community, and my society. As a person I have grown to stand up for those who can’t stand up for themselves and try to be kind to all I come in contact with. In my community, I try to lead the underclassmen during sports season. I have been a varsity athlete from freshmen year on in all my sports. Going from being the youngest on the team to one of the oldest reminds me in ropes course of being the camper and looking up to the older counselors who lead the class to becoming one of those counselors and trying my best to be a good role model. In my society I not only volunteer with 4-H in working with young kids but often participate in community service. I volunteer at the Blue Ridge Hospice thrift store to help raise money for families of those who are seriously ill. Through working with 4-H in the ropes course I have realized how much I love working with kids in athletic settings. I consider myself an athletic person and love seeing the kids getting involved in physically exerting activities such as on the ropes course trying out the rock wall or the zip line.  I have taken this experience and found something close, where I volunteer at a local elementary school week day mornings at different sport clubs such as running club and jump rope club.

I think the different programs that could become available to youth would be a life changing experience.  The after school programming would be a fun way for youth to spend their time after school in a safe environment. The impact I believe would be substantial. The community programming would allow it to have less restrictions and get people more involved. Team building is no question when it comes to the ropes course; it isn’t an option to work together here. If you want to overcome your challenges you must have the help of your peers. Not only will these programs be in place but the fact that the participants will be out identifying community needs and satisfying those needs shows the impact that the program will actually have. It will not only benefit the youth participating them but all members of the community as well.

            The program at 4-H has been life changing to me and the amazing number of other people who have participated over the years. The ropes course aspect is also, in my opinion, one of the most impacting elements of the program by bringing people together and helping them emerge as leaders not only here at 4-H but in society as a whole. Looking at the meaning of the program which is about education and leadership I could see no better fit for the LEAP program then 4-H.

            (Avery’s note: the LEAP program Kendall mentions is a potentially new program the Center is currently seeking grant money to fund. Kendall, along with Leisha, Ryan, and Farrell, helped make a presentation this past Saturday to 5 members of the grant committee. The above entry was Kendall’s part of the presentation. We thought it was too impactful a story to keep to ourselves).