15 Mar

Just a few weeks ago, three West Virginia University Extension Agents traveled to Patagonia, Chile with a collective goal: establishing the first week-long 4-H Camp in South America. Patagonia_4H_smores

“We need to take the lead in this global economy and community—and the time is now,” said Doug Hovatter, WVU Extension Agent in Berkeley County.

Hovatter, along with WVU Extension Agents Don Dransfield of Monroe County and Tina Cowger of Marion County, spent more than two weeks in Chile working to spread the wealth of knowledge 4-H offers.

“For over 100 years West Virginia Extension has been building an excellent 4-H program. In the next 100 years we need to take all the components of 4-H we have mastered and add global educations, cultures, heritages, languages and customs,” Hovatter added.

A WVU Extension 4-H research project has been underway in Patagonia, Chile for the past two years. The time spent in the country allowed coordinators from West Virginia to observe how to best blend the 4-H traditions and cultures with that of the Chile community.

“We wanted to discover what we could learn from one another,” Hovatter explained. “Starting a 4-H program is as much about the community as any other organization.”

“To hear and watch those kids in their first Council Circle, in Spanish, and to see the magic of 4-H was truly incredible,” Hovatter added.

As the week camp came to a close, an unexpected disaster hit Chile, in the form of an 8.8 magnitude earthquake. Where the camp and agents were, the damage was minimal.

“You could just feel a little movement. It was just enough to wake me up,” Hovatter said. “I heard dogs barking and alarms going off, but I was too tired to be alarmed, so I went back to bed.”

Patagonia_4H_stafftravel Hovatter would need his rest. The earthquake hit the night before the agents were scheduled to fly back home. Airports and many roads were closed. Travel was difficult to say the least. After a 13 hour bus ride over bumpy dirt roads, and sleeping next to the ticket counter at the airport, the agents made it home only a few days behind schedule.

Even though camp is over and the agents are back in the States, the community and leadership presence of 4-H still remains strong in Chile. The campers from Patagonia 4-H have been collecting goods and supplies to send to Santiago, where the earthquake did tremendous damage.

For more than a century, 4-H has focused on agricultural science, electricity, mechanics, entrepreneurship and natural sciences. Today, 4-H out-of-school opportunities also exist in subjects like rocketry, robotics, bio-fuels, renewable energy and computer science.

To learn more about new opportunities in the 4-H program, visit, or contact your local WVU Extension Service.