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Exchange Visits Broaden Vistas for 4-H Groups


Nickie Perry of Oskaloosa, Kan., had a dream: to see the ocean.

But when the 15-year-old arrived in Ventura County on Tuesday she was most impressed with the palm trees.

"I never imagined that I would see palm trees and so many of them at once," said Nickie, who is visiting California for the first time. "They are just so beautiful. For some reason I always thought they only existed in movies."

Nickie is one of 14 teen-agers spending a week with Ventura County families as part of an exchange trip sponsored by 4-H, a nationwide youth organization with farming roots.

Last year, 16 Ventura County teen-agers spent a week in Jefferson County, Kan. This year, their Kansas hosts came to Ventura County.

"Our goal is to build a strong sense of responsibility among teen-agers and teach them how to appreciate a different culture," said Rose Hayden-Smith, director of 4-H programs in Ventura County.

The trip is part of a yearlong effort involving teen-agers in both states who held several fund-raising events to pay for the trip.

Since arriving in California, the group has attended a beach party near Channel Islands National Park Headquarters, taken a trip to Disneyland on Wednesday and visited several agricultural facilities Friday.

The group watched thousands of lemons being washed, graded and packed at a lemon packing plant in Oxnard. They saw fields of flowers and strawberries growing at Oxnard farms. And they saw workers pick lemons and avocados at a Somis ranch.

This weekend the teen-agers plan a hike in the Santa Monica Mountains and a boat trip to Anacapa Island.

"We want to give them a flavor of what life in Southern California is like, and particularly about Ventura County," said Marilyn Godfrey, one of several parents who organized the exchange program.

The 4-H club--which stands for head, heart, hands and health--has operated in the county for decades, but this its first exchange trip for at least eight years, Hayden-Smith said.

It all began in January, 1994, when Godfrey, whose 17-year-old daughter is a member of the club, decided to organize the trip.

"As a teen-ager I went to several places in the United States and Canada through the program," Godfrey said. "So I want to offer my daughter the chance to do the same."

After considering several states, including Massachusetts and Pennsylvania, the teen-agers--from Thousand Oaks to Santa Paula--picked Kansas as the most convenient and the most different.

Once the Jefferson County 4-H club agreed to host the Ventura County residents, the teen-agers and some parents launched a campaign to raise money for the trip.

They sponsored a dance, sold cookies and held yard sales, finally raising enough cash to pay for air tickets. In Kansas they stayed with farming families who showed them the county.

"What surprised me the most was that they ate beef in almost every meal," said Lesley Godfrey, who went to Kansas last year. "Also it was the most quiet place in the world. At night all we heard were the frogs, crickets and cows."

Although the Kansas residents say they have fallen in love with the beaches in Ventura, they find the area too crowded.

"I think it's too noisy here," said Curtis Coppinger, 16, whose hometown has a population of 650 people. "Too many cars and too many people."

"I have been in Tennessee and Ohio, and I think California is the prettiest of all places," said Kansas resident Randi Coppinger. "It's very different from where I come from."

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