Corrales resident Natasha Kwiatkowski, second from left, stands with other members of the New Mexico delegation to the National 4-H Conference under the American and 4-H flag after the first time in history the 4-H flag was raised under the American flag at the U.S. Department of Agriculture building in Washington, D.C. Courtesy photo.

A Corrales teenager dived into government and history during a recent trip to Washington, D.C., for the National 4-H Conference.

Natasha Kwiatkowski, a Corralitos 4-H Club member and Cibola High School senior, was one of five New Mexico 4-Hers, accompanied by two chaperones, at the event March 19-24. She was the only one from Sandoval County.

Her trip included meeting 4-Hers from around the country, workshops, discussions, sightseeing and giving a presentation about how to encourage more young people to become entrepreneurs.

“I think I believe a little bit more in group organization and the young generation coming up,” Kwiatkowski of how the experience affected her.

She was encouraged by how well the high school students were able to work together and solve problems, despite being from different places.

Kwiatkowski said she received a scholarship to cover all her trip-related expenses.

The conference took place in Crystal City, Va., near Washington, D.C., with more than 200 15- to 19-year-olds.

The attendees were housed in rooms with people from other states. Kwiatkowski’s roommate was from Alabama, “which was a really interesting culture shock because their accent is really heavy,” she said.

She enjoyed interacting with students from different states and U.S. territories.

The evening of March 20 featured a nighttime tour of national monuments.

“We spent three hours with the walking tour, which was really fun,” Kwiatkowski said.

On Monday, March 21, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack spoke to the 4-Hers about youth empowerment and the importance of supporting youth organizations.

“He was really well-spoken and I enjoyed listening to him,” Kwiatkowski said.

After Vilsack’s speech, the 4-H members heard an announcement that the federal government was allotting tens of millions of dollars to youth organizations, including 4-H.

For the conference, Kwiatkowski was placed in a group working to identify barriers to young people starting their own businesses, come up with solutions and give a presentation to the U.S. House of Representatives Small Business Committee.

They focused on agriculture-related businesses. Kwiatkowski’s portion of the presentation involved regulations that hinder the start of small businesses.

“It went pretty well,” she said.

Her group’s overall message was that supporting youth organizations, providing easy access to information on government websites and decreasing regulation would help people start and grow businesses.

Another highlight on the trip, she said, was an assembly March 23 to raise the 4-H flag under the American flag at the U.S. Department of Agriculture building for the first time ever. Kwiatkowski said she liked being part of that history in the making.

Corrales resident Natasha Kwiatkowski, middle, stands with two other New Mexican 4-H members in front of the U.S. Capitol during her recent trip to Washington, D.C., for the National 4-H Conference. Courtesy photo.

Kwiatkowski’s favorite part of the trip was dinner at The Monocle restaurant on Capitol Hill. Many prominent leaders had eaten there, and as a history buff, she was excited.

According to the restaurant’s photographic record, Kwiatkowski sat in the same place where former U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy had dined. She said former presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush had eaten at a neighboring table.

Per unofficial tradition, 4-Hers brought pins from their states and traded them during the conference. Kwiatkowski collected more than 20, the most of anyone there, and won a Starbucks gift card.

Kwiatkowski’s mother, Stacey Kwiatkowski, said the National 4-H Congress was the first large face-to-face gathering the teenagers had been able to have since the pandemic started.

“It’s just cool that these kids had an opportunity to go to DC and represent” and bring back knowledge to Sandoval County, she said.