I'm Jan Petersen, Youth Education Coordinator for the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering. My able assistant, Deb Howard, and I just completed the 2013 National Cowboy Poetry Gathering Youth Festival, a week of kids programs at the Western Folklife Center. This isn't anything new—the Western Folklife Center has hosted this event the week before Cowboy Poetry for over 20 years. Over 650 students and home-schoolers from Elko County joined in the fun. The kids, mostly 3rd and 4th graders, climbed on big yellow school buses and traveled down to the Western Folklife Center located in the middle of historic downtown Elko, Nevada. All were pretty excited as they came in the door as this has become quite a tradition in the schools. The kids knew from their teachers, older siblings and older students that a good time was in store. We divided into three groups and... .they were off! All rotated through three stations.
Station 1 was stamping leather with Karla Chapin. She is a master leather craftswoman, long on patience. After a short instruction time, the kids—4 or 5 to a table—were turned loose with their very own leather round and a table full of stamping tools. The noise is deafening (our volunteers wear earplugs or...take out their hearing aids). Twenty minutes later, "voila!" — a masterpiece was created and ready to take home (I still have a stamped leather piece one of my kids made oh so long ago. Now they are big kids with kids of their own.).
Station 2 was touring the exhibit with Jackie Jonas, a retired social studies teacher. She told them a bit about the exhibit, reminded them of museum manners, and gave them a scavenger hunt questionnaire to fill out. Again, a volunteer helped the kids find the answers, not to mention sneaking in a little learning along the way. This year some of our Italian guests were there to talk to the kids. This was really exciting to meet a "real" Italian!
Station 3 took place at the historic Pioneer Hotel Bar. Here, accomplished horsewoman Carla Wilson Leff told all about different types of saddles. The kids sat with rapt attention learning about the horn, latigos and even side saddles! For many years, Wrangler has donated bright-colored bandannas to the Youth Festival. Each kid got to choose a color and learned to tie the scarf. THEN all moved to the bar - 2 to a stool - and sipped their very own cup of sarsaparilla. It was all very exciting.
Ninety minutes later, the big yellow school bus pulled up and the kids returned to school all a twitter with their new scarves, carefully crafted leather pieces and a bit of learning about a far away country with cowboys who work cows and horses in some ways that are different yet the same as our cowboy life here in northeastern Nevada.
And another bus pulls up with more kids and the crew begins again.
It's a lot of work and time to set up this program and worth every minute. We couldn't do this without our volunteers. Every year our faithful helpers come back to help kids stamp leather, bar-tend and pour sarsaparilla, and tour the kids. This program couldn't exist without kid-friendly volunteers.
And....a good time was had by all!