A newly formed 4-H club in the Walla Walla Valley with a focus on equestrian events is riding high in its first year.
"We wanted to start something new," said Larry Thomson.
He and other adult mentors with American Wranglers, 4-H leaders Mickie Maxson-Box and JoAnn Thomson, added that they wanted to establish a productive learning experience for all ages and to teach kids to give back to the community.
They're succeeding on both counts.
American Wranglers this summer completed a horse show, the Pink Ribbon Classic Benefit, which was co-sponsored by Walla Walla Valley Horsemen and netted $4,000 to assist patients at Providence St. Mary Regional Cancer Center. It was the first show the Wranglers organized since the club was formed in January.
"That's far more than most first-time events make," said Kathleen Obenland, spokeswoman for the Walla Walla medical center and a longtime equestrian.
"It was a fun thing to do and it helped a lot of people," said 11-year-old Wrangler Karissa Stubblefield. "The club is so much fun and we're all friends. And the horses are friends, too."
The money specifically went into the Special Needs Fund, which can be used for anything needed by low-income patients, including gas to get to the center, lodging, meals, items for symptom control, wigs, Obenland said. "The kids did a great job."
And they expect to be continuing to do so for a long time to come because of the youth of its members.
"We have an extremely young group," Larry Thomson said. "Our oldest are 12 to 13. We're missing the older teenagers." But this means the group could maintain membership longer because of its youth, he explained. Many organizations simply don't have the younger members needed to keep the club going.
American Wranglers also benefits from the participation of members' families. Everyone chips in to help.
"There's not one person in charge; there are several leaders," said Cheryl Stubblefield, Karissa's mother. "The families work well together."
A horse show is a big event to put on, even for a well-established group. But American Wranglers got out there with an infectious enthusiasm that quickly spread through the community.
Plenty of volunteers stepped in to help, including internationally known equestrian coach Mark Shaffer, who judged the event.
"It was a first class show," said JoAnn Thomson. The group put up decorations and gathered donations.
The Wranglers decided against using award ribbons, which cost about $4 a piece. Instead, they made beaded bookmarks to be awarded and in the bargain learned about the value of saving money and making a beautiful, usable item.
That they chose St. Mary Regional Cancer Center patients as beneficiaries of the fundraiser was also a group effort.
Larry Thomson, JoAnn's husband, said cancer has probably touched every family in some way. At the center she saw people with a limited amount of money who couldn't afford such things as lunch because they used all their money on travel expenses to get treatment. Seeing so many people needing help, American Wranglers decided this was their opportunity to help, he said.
Then donations came in from all over, locally and across the state.
Maxson-Box and JoAnn Thomson gave special thanks for the contributions from the medical community, Greta and Kathy Hassler, the Neher family, Graphic Apparel and artist Shirley Dickerson.
"We got all kinds of donations," Larry Thomson said. "The doctors and nurses were the first to give sponsorships. It was a tremendous success, just fantastic. When we started that show we didn't know if anyone would show up. You never know."
For more information about 4-H, call the Washington State University Extension Office at 509-524-2685.
Karlene Ponti can be reached at 509-526-8324 or firstname.lastname@example.org.