For Alicia Wells and seven of her fellow 4-H members, the National 4-H Congress in Orlando, Fla., this fall isn't just going to be an event where they learn from other people.
It's also going to be a chance to impress student leaders with their ideas and try to help shape the future of 4-H Clubs, they said.
"One of my goals is to introduce polo to the 4-H community," said Alicia, a Sykesville resident who won a place at the convention for her equestrian skills and work in the field of natural resources. Equestrian pursuits in 4-H now, she said, are "mainly just show riding."
A polo player while she was at Garrison Forest School in Owings Mills, Alicia said that the 4-H program lacks a place for her sport, which she will continue to play at the University of Connecticut next year.
"I'm really excited [about going to Congress]," Alicia said, echoing the sentiments of her fellow 4-H'ers. "I'm really interested in meeting new people and I'd like to introduce my ideas to them."
Changes made last year in the 4-H National Congress program -- which had been in Chicago since its inception in 1921 -- now allow students to pay the $1,000 conference and lodging costs to attend if they wish.
But Carroll County's eight delegates -- Alicia, 18; Chris Weaver, 16; Mac Bair, 15; Amanda Boyd, 15; Rebecca Dowsley, 15; Josh Kibler, 15; Katie Painter, 15; and Jessica Herbert, 14 -- earned their trips to Congress the old-fashioned way. They won them.
Each submitted a record book, or journal, of all the projects they completed in a chosen category during their 4-H careers, which was judged on the county and state levels.
Three judges from across the state interviewed several contestants in each field and awarded 36 trips, each paid for by a commercial sponsor or the state 4-H council, said Bob Shirley, a Carroll County Extension agent who works with the 4-H program.
"This year's selection process [in Maryland] was the same as it has been in years past," said Mr. Shirley, who was unsure how other states chose their candidates for 4-H Congress.
"There aren't as many national sponsors, and what national sponsors there are are not paying 100 percent," he said. "The Maryland 4-H Foundation and the Maryland State 4-H office are busy raising enough funds to send the rest of them."
Trips for Alicia and Jessica, a North Carroll High School sophomore who also won in the Horse and Pony category, will be provided by Linda Zang, an international dressage rider, they said.
Dressage is a formal equestrian event where the horse is put through various steps and gaits by slight movements of the rider.
The Maryland Pork Producers are paying for Chris, a North Carroll High junior, to attend for his work with swine. General Motors Corp. has sponsored Josh, a Westminster High sophomore, for his safety presentations.
State 4-H organizations will be raising money and collecting sponsors for the other participants.
Amanda, a Westminster High sophomore, won for citizenship; Katie, a North Carroll High junior, received her trip for fashion; Mac, a Westminster High junior, won for leadership; and Rebecca, a North Carroll High sophomore, earned her trip for veterinary science.
"I'm really honored," said Rebecca, who will be organizing a veterinary science class this fall.
"I'm going to have veterinarians come in and teach it," she said, noting that she has spent the summer with Dr. Kay Wagner, a Hampstead veterinarian. "I'm doing it so other kids in 4-H can learn more about veterinary science."
Congress for Josh will be an opportunity to share his first-hand experiences with safety, from organizing safety courses for 4-H and the state police to writing a monthly column for the 4-H newsletter.
"I got into safety because of my little brother, who's 3," Josh said. "Since he was born, I wanted to keep the house safe and my mom helped me child-proof the house.
"Then I did different demonstrations at 4-H and brought myself up to doing ATV [all-terrain vehicle] safety courses."
Most of the other delegates said they are looking forward to participating in an event that their friends, siblings and parents attended.