The year 1984 was monumental. The movie “Ghostbusters” was released, the MTV Video Music Awards aired for the first time, and the Monroe County 4-H Teen Ambassadors were formed.
From the beginning, Teen Ambassadors has built a reputation for community service and youth leadership, both inside and outside the world of 4-H. Members are teens, ages 13-19, who participate in service projects while building confidence, fostering teamwork, and learning life skills.
Nearly four decades ago, former leaders Debbie Kraftchick, the late Judy See, and the late Larry See Jr. created the Monroe branch of the Teen Ambassadors. The inspiration for the club’s nickname came from the Ambassador Bridge. The structure of the bridge symbolized the various connections between 4-H, youth and adulthood.
Tammy Schmidt has served as leader of the Teen Ambassadors for the past two years. She has three children in the club.
“Growing up, I wasn’t a 4-H member, but I saw all the wonderful opportunities 4-H had and introduced my kids to it,” she said. “It was a perfect fit, and they are very active members.”
Schmidt began his work with the club as a co-manager in 2016 alongside ex-manager Patsy Hancz.
“I saw the importance of the club and wanted to help as much as I could,” she added. “In 2020 Patsy resigned as a leader and the Monroe County 4-H Extension Advisor asked me if I would take over the club. I gladly accepted.”
Although the club has operated under different leaders over the years, volunteering for various outreach programs has been a priority.
Last winter, TA members collected and donated new and gently used coats for the annual Christmas coat drive in Ida and several members helped out with the event.
The club’s other activities include making greeting cards for nursing home residents, baking and distributing cookies at a local soup kitchen through God Works, an organization that serves food to the homeless. shelter and working poor in the Monroe community, and helping with seasonal inventory at Heartbeat of Monroe. , a local pregnancy care center. At several 4-H sponsored events, such as the annual spaghetti dinner and auction, teen ambassadors have volunteered to help and mentor young 4-H members.
A few months before the start of the annual Monroe County Fair, the club designs an official t-shirt and fair lapel pins which are available for purchase. Proceeds are used for events like hosting a 4-H grad party and sponsoring a trophy for the fair.
Teen Ambassadors serve as flag bearers and lead the annual parade that kicks off the Monroe County Fair. Throughout the week of the fair, members volunteer to work at the 4-H office where they answer questions and provide support to superintendents and visitors to the fair. At the end of the week, the club holds a celebration dance that all 4-Hers can attend.
The Teen Ambassadors’ largest and longest-running project to date is Pennies for Turkeys, an annual fundraiser held to help Monroe families put food on their tables during the holiday season.
In its early days, clubs were asked to buy a turkey or donate a check. Over time, the project grew.
According to a 2011 letter written by Teen Ambassadors Vice President Michelle Thibault, clubs were challenged to enter a contest and 4-H members were encouraged to donate their pennies to win.
“The club that raised the most money received a turkey trophy and bragging rights for the year,” Thibault wrote.
Within a few years, the friendly club competition totaled $4,341 and 440 turkeys were purchased and distributed to local families.
Last year, despite the coronavirus pandemic, donation boxes were placed at local businesses and various clubs made contributions. The club raised approximately $1,000.
This major community service project made the Teen Ambassadors an eligible candidate to apply for group/team awards sponsored by the Michigan State Awards Program.
Teen Ambassadors is also a highly decorated club, having received numerous awards locally and nationally.
As the club’s membership grows, its primary focus will continue to be community service and citizenship projects in Monroe County.
Schmidt has many plans for the club’s future.
“I want to continue the club’s rich history of helping others and continuing our community service projects that others have started,” she said. “We have four new members this year and growing the club in numbers is also a priority.”
Anyone interested in learning more about Teen Ambassadors or the Monroe County 4-H program can contact the Monroe County 4-H Extension Office at (734)-240-3070.