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4-H employee explores Puerto Rico

A visit to Puerto Rico brought one Lincoln County 4-H employee face to face with rainforests, salsa dancing and edible octopus.
“I have the best job in the world,” said Fran L. Senters, who spent 10 days in Puerto Rico as a chaperone for an environmental service learning trip. She returned to North Carolina Aug. 23.
She was accompanied by Liz Driscoll, a 4-H specialist in crops, horticulture and soil science, eight North Carolina high school students and 11 Michigan 4-H students.
“I wanted to take everyone home with me,” she said.
During the trip, the group volunteered with Casa Pueblo, a non-profit organization that led a grassroots struggle against strip mining in the ’70s.
They also potted trees to be planted in Hurricane-affected areas and bonded with Puerto Rican 4-H members.
“They tried to speak English, and we tried to speak Spanish and that was pretty funny in itself,” Senters said.
The Puerto Ricans also tried to teach their guests salsa dancing, which also produced funny results.
When not volunteering, Senters and her students spent their days touring different outdoor environments.
They kayaked through a mangrove swamp in the pitch black and looked at organisms that glow in the dark when irritated.
“So when you put a paddle in it, it glows like fairy dust,” Senters said.
They also trekked through the rain forest, sweating up a storm and enjoying the sights.
“You walk up this pathway through plants that are larger than life. They almost look like they’re touching the sky,” Senters said. “It’s like looking at an enchanted forest.”
On their down time, the group decided to be adventurous and make a meal out of food no one had ever tried before. The octopus turned out to be rubbery.
“You have to really work at it – rapid chewing,” Senters said.
By the end of the trip, the students had developed a bond, discussed the differences between the North and South and learned valuable lessons about community service.
“They kept reinforcing the idea that one person can make a difference,” Senters said of her students.
Senters describes her fellow travelers as “the future leaders of our country.” She credits 4-H for the students work ethic and sense of responsibility.
“I think it has everything to do with it. It gives you such confidence,” she said. “You do projects. You see your goals planned and accomplished. It’s all about life skills.”
For more information on 4-H call the Lincoln County Cooperative Extension at (704) 736-8458.
by Sarah Grano

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