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4-H auction turns 25

| Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2005

Westmoreland County 4-H's biggest annual fund-raiser will mark a milestone this week at the Westmoreland Fair.

The 4-H Benefit Auction will begin 6 p.m. Thursday in the show arena at the fairgrounds in Mt. Pleasant Township, near Mutual.

"This will be our 25th year for the auction," said Cindy Arblaster, a 4-H educator with the Penn State Cooperative Extension. "I think it started off making less than $2,000, and now we average about $11,000 each year."

Bidding is free. The event is supported by items donated by a long list of local businesses and individuals.

The cache of booty up for bids includes household and hand-crafted items, livestock and pet supplies, gift certificates, tickets to shows and events, clothing, toys, theme baskets, plants and gardening items, quilts and afghans, art, baked goods, collectibles, autographed items, recreational items and much more.

"Most of it is new merchandise, but we do have some gently used things," she said. "People often redonate items after they win them, too. Sometimes a pie can end up raising $250."

Arblaster said there's a synergy to the event, with multiple auctioneers - all local professionals who volunteer their services - working about 300 bidders into a frenzy and 4-H'ers serving as runners for winning bidders.

"We pretty much fill the arena," she said. "And there's still merchandise coming in while we're getting started. That's why it's so crazy."

But it's more than something fun to do at the fair.

"People who like auctions should really come. It's really a lot of fun," said Martha Schramm, a leader with the Alwine Community 4-H club in Delmont. "But it really benefits the kids."

About 3,000 youths ages 8 to 19 participate in more than 35 4-H clubs in Westmoreland County, and the annual auction benefits all of them through the 4-H Youth Development Program, which teaches citizenship, leadership and life skills.

"The kids are learning skills and responsibility through their projects, and they are mentored by their leaders, which in turn instills leadership skills in them," Arblaster said, adding that the programs provide informal educational opportunities in suburban and urban communities and rural areas.

"A lot of people think 4-H is just about farming, but we also have a lot of projects that don't have anything to do with farming," Arblaster said, citing such activities as rocketry, food and nutrition, sewing and gardening.

Auction proceeds help to reduce costs for about a dozen 4-H programs and events throughout the year. Ten percent also goes toward the organization's scholarship program, which provides 10 $600 scholarships each year to graduating members who continue their educations.

With so many kids raising animals and completing other projects to show each August, 4-H has become an integral component of the fair.

"The market animals are all exhibited by 4-H or FFA members, and a lot of the 4-H kids enter in open classes as well," fair entry secretary LeJeune said. She said 4-H exhibits also account for 1,500 of the fair's home economics exhibits.

"We both support each other," Arblaster said. "The fair provides us with space and publicity, and we provide a number of exhibits for people to come and see. We really work hand to hand to provide a good experience for everyone."

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