Future Homemakers of America are breaking the mold Focus expands; more men join CARROLL COUNTY EDUCATION

June Cleaver might feel a little out of place at a Future Homemakers of America meeting.

The president of the Maryland Future Homemakers of America eschews starched aprons with pearl chokers, as do her fellow club members.


Especially the ones who are boys.

Things have changed since the days of "Leave it to Beaver." If her son had joined FHA, June Cleaver likely would have met her husband at the door with the classic line: "Ward, I'm worried about the Beaver."


Jennifer Carter, a Westminster High School junior, said the organization is trying to change its image to reflect what club members really do: community service and preparation for the multiple roles that women and men must juggle and share today.

Rather than change the name of the organization and deny the importance of home and family, FHA clubs nationwide are seeking to include males, and expand their focus to the community and workplace, according to Jennifer and two Westminster teachers active in the group.

Jennifer wants to have a family some day, but she also plans a career as a special education teacher or occupational therapist.

"I don't think any [FHA members] that I know are planning to be just in the home," Jennifer said, although members don't look down on stay-at-home parents.

"We even get teased" at school, she said. "People think you're going to sit and cook and clean and sew."

They do all that, but more. FHA clubs in Westminster High School and elsewhere in the county are among the most active in community service.

Westminster club members currently are working on a recipe booklet to help local residents use their government-issued commodities, such as cornmeal, because some poor people don't have a lot of cookbooks.

Other projects include reading to children at the Carroll County Family Center Oct. 21, and the Reading is Fundamental program through the Smithsonian Institution.


The service opportunities probably attracted most of the 50 boys and girls who showed up for the first meeting of the Westminster High School club last week, Jennifer said.

All Maryland freshmen this year will have to complete 75 hours of community service to get their diplomas, and the word around school is that FHA will give them many chances to fulfill the requirement.

Boys are still reluctant to join the club, Jennifer said. The few who have done so came along with their girlfriends. They focus more on community service than on home economics.

Home economics teacher and club co-adviser Beverly Moore said the club's activities usually focus on helping families with the essentials in life, and that attracts students.

She said the state organization allows local clubs to use the alternative name "HERO," short for Home Economics and Related Occupations.

"The home economics curriculum has changed, too," she said. "It's not just cooking and sewing."


In addition to the traditional areas, Mrs. Moore teaches courses such as "Living on Your Own." That course is popular even among honors students.

Child development courses are popular among students who, like Jennifer, plan a career in teaching.

Because the organization is doing so much more than the word "homemaker" implies, some members tried again at the national convention this summer to change the name.

Some of the suggestions were "Future Leaders of America," "Community and Family Leaders of America" and "Youth Leaders of America."

The Maryland delegation was among the minority voting for a name change.

More than 75 percent of the states, and the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, voted to keep the organization's original name.


"We want more members altogether, and we can't get them because of the image," Jennifer said.

In the end, Jennifer said, she understands those who voted against the change because of the trouble it would be to change logos and stationery.

"It's also like a slap in the face to the organization," she said.

So Jennifer and other future leaders will continue to spread word of mouth that FHA is not just a place where you learn to bake a cake and darn socks.

While clubs are flourishing in places such as Carroll County and the Eastern Shore, there are no clubs in Baltimore or Baltimore County, Jennifer said.

Maryland's total membership is 1,993 students.


Nationwide, numbers range from 12 students in all of Massachusetts to 34,881 in Texas.

Arkansas comes in second with 13,499 members.

Jennifer has applied for one of 20 national FHA scholarships to study in Japan for six weeks next summer.

She said that club activities and the workshops she has taken at FHA conventions have helped her expand her horizons and grow as a leader.

"Before, I couldn't really get in front of people and talk," she said. "I've learned how to deal with stress, how to build my self-esteem and others' self-esteem. I think it's really helped me."