It all started when Aly Kloeckner, an Extension educator in Goodhue County, was engaged to represent the Department of Youth Development on Extension's rural stress task force back in 2018.
The task force was formed to work with greater Minnesota on challenges that extend beyond the farm– including the weakened ag economy, day care shortages, opioid crisis and other substance abuse, mental health and more.
In 2021, Kloeckner, along with her colleague Becca Turnquist, an Extension educator in Swift County, submitted a grant proposal to the Minnesota Department of Agriculture and their Bend, Don't Break initiative.
The proposal was centered around creating and administering training for 4-H volunteers with the intent to increase their capacity for working with youth in rural areas. Shortly after, it was accepted, and Kloeckner and Turnquist began work to put the project into motion.
"We started with a pilot workshop for 4-H volunteers about building resilience in youth that live in rural communities," Turnquist says. "But what we weren't expecting was for young people to attend and show interest in that workshop."
From then on, they decided to take the project in two separate but related directions– Kloeckner focusing on 4-H volunteer training and Turnquist taking on youth training. In just over a year's time, it went from having a presence in two counties to more than 50.
"So far, we've hosted over 20 events," Turnquist says. "Between youth and adults, we've reached over 470 people!"
Kloeckner and Turnquist have even partnered with youth leaders to help teach young people about mental health and wellbeing.
"Last year, I participated in two different demonstrations," says Ilan, Minnesota 4-H Agriculture Ambassador. "Youth came in– kids younger than me– and we ran through some different exercises to illustrate the effects of stress, especially within the farming industry."
But Kloeckner and Turnquist aren't done. In fact, Turnquist stays determined to increase the footprint of this project largely because of her personal experience growing up in a rural community.
"Growing up in a rural area, there was not adequate mental health support," Turnquist says. "That experience really inspired me to get involved and try to provide 4-H volunteers and youth with resources and tools that could help them in times of need."
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