For many of the 27 4-H Exchange Students from middle California, their weeklong stay in Lincoln and Bedford counties has been a life-changing event.
The teens, along with nine adults from Stanislaus County, as well as 11 Lincoln and 12 Bedford county kids, went on a whirlwind tour of the area from June 19-26, experiencing some of the area activities and learning about historic sites, famous places and other interesting areas.
The exchange program is for high school age youth. Lincoln County 4-H hosted the group from California and has a two-year agreement with them.
“Next summer we’ll go there and stay in their homes in the California area,” said Dan Owens, local 4-H director.
“This year Lincoln County and Bedford County together are hosting the group from California,” he added.
“It’s been awesome. We’ve seen lots of new things, made new friends — it’s priceless,” said Joleen Thompson, leader of the 4-H group from California. “It’s been life changing. The experience here is beyond what most of them will ever get.”
Each morning the group set out for a new destination. On Thursday morning, the teens went to the Huntsville Space and Rocket Center. Later that afternoon, the group went to the Falls Creek Grist Mill and Falls. They also had an opportunity to see the State Horse Show in Bedford County.
“It’s good to get new experiences and meet new people … this is my favorite trip so far,” said Patrick Germann, a California 4-H-er.
Friday the group went on a General Jackson lunch cruise, toured the famous Opryland Hotel, then went to the Opry Mills Mall for dinner and shopping.
On Saturday, the group visited the Chad Williams Walking Horse Stables, toured the Stones River Battlefield, went to The Ryman (the original Opry House), visited the Country Music Hall of Fame and saw the Grand Ole Opry.
“It was memorable seeing the Grand Ole Opry and The Ryman, the old Opry Hall,” said Jacki Mello, one of the teens from California.
Teens, advisers and host families enjoyed a family day Sunday, including a float down the river, games, basketball, swimming and later evening cookouts at the homes of some of the host families.
In Chattanooga Monday, they saw the Incline Railroad, went to the Quest Picnic Area for a sack lunch and later whitewater rafting. For many of the kids, whitewater rafting on the Ocoee River was the most exciting part of the trip.
On their last day in Tennessee, the group went to the Celebration Walking Horse Facilities, Walking Horse Museum, took a tour of the Jack Daniel Distillery, visited the Deer Valley Farm and took a tour of the Lincoln County Courthouse before their farewell supper and barn dance at the Fairgrounds.
“It’s been wonderful,” said Diana Connacher, 4-H adviser from California.
She was amazed at how well the two counties worked together and paired the families with the California teens and advisers.
One of the host family members, Kenneth Odell, said it was wonderful to have the California folks to talk to about their agriculture and crops and see that they have lots of commonalities, and yet lots of differences, such as the crops they grow.