BETHEL – Supporters of the Pine Tree State 4-H Foundation attended a banquet at the Bethel Inn on Friday to kick off a new fund-raising campaign which they hope will provide a reliable source of funding for existing and future programs.

The 4-H Youth Development Program in Oxford County is a program of the University of Maine Cooperative Extension. Extension educator Susan Jennings explained in a phone interview that 4-H is funded by local and state money through the University of Maine and by funds appropriated by the county commissioners. Funding for individual programs comes from grants and donations.

Jennings said that the problem is that most grants are just startup money. Programs are expected to become self-sustaining so that grants are no longer needed to keep them running. “As more and more programs are started on a local level,” Jennings said, “it’s harder for them to be self-sustaining.” The local funds are simply not available.

The Cooperative Extension hopes that a solution to this funding problem can be found in a trust fund. Although the fund-raising campaign to establish the fund will not officially begin until Jan. 1, 2006, Suzanne Grover told the nearly 100 guests at Friday’s banquet that $100,000 has been raised in the past four weeks alone.

Many of those at the formal dinner have already made donations to the fund. Attendees, wearing white and green corsages donated by Young’s Greenhouse, feasted on steak and lobster before participating in an auction to raise more funds.

Julie Hart and Pat Roma, on behalf of the Mahoosuc Kids’ Association, surprised Pine Tree State 4-H President Harold Brown with a donation of $50,000 to the fund. The association is a program of the Cooperative Extension for Bethel area children.

Guest speaker Robert Kennedy, president of the University of Maine system and a former 4-H member, told guests that he is extremely impressed with the trust fund initiative, which he called “a new model for a land-grant university.”

By supporting the aspirations and education of Maine youth, Kennedy said that 4-H and the Cooperative Extension are supporting the university system in its mission. “We’ll reap the benefit of that,” he said, “and I promise you we’ll finish them off well.”

Sponsors of the youth development campaign can choose to direct their pledge to their own area of interest, including after-school, livestock, and career education programs. “It ain’t all cows and cookin’,” Brown quipped.

For more information, or to make a donation, people may contact Jennings at the Oxford County Extension Office.

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