4-H helped Dutch newcomers thrive after arriving in Canada

OLDS, Alta. — Jess Verstappen was introduced to 4-H five years ago, and if she has her way, she will never leave the movement. 


The 18-year-old from High Prairie, Alta., received the Premier’s Award this spring for all that she has achieved in such a short time. 


The award was presented following a selection weekend at Olds, where senior members were invited to present their work in 4-H and sit through interviews to select the top person. 


“I was surprised when I won,” she said.


It has been an interesting journey for Verstappen. 


She and her family emigrated from the Netherlands six years ago because they could not expand their farm. They settled in northern Alberta , where they raise 500 commercial ewes.


It was a considerable life change for Jess and her brother, Roy. While their parents, Louise Liebenberg and Eric Verstappen, spoke other languages, including English, the children knew only Dutch. 


“Our parents always spoke English to each other, but we only spoke Dutch,” she said.


They were enrolled in the local school within a week of moving into the community and had to learn fast. 


A Dutch speaking kindergarten teacher helped as they made their way through a new education system. 


They also joined the Coyote Acres 4-H Club and started to make friends and learn about Canadian agriculture. 


Jess has had projects in small engines, market steer, ewe lamb, mature ewe, market lamb and light horse. She also became involved in rodeo as a barrel racer and is the local rodeo princess. 


“We don’t have rodeo in the Netherlands because of animal welfare concerns,” she said as she prepared her lambs for the Summer Synergy provincial 4-H sheep show.