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4-H volunteer who taught young Northern California sisters survival skills to be honored in Washington, D.C.

When the news broke on Friday evening that two little girls had been reported missing from their Southern Humboldt home, no one quite predicted how the next 44 hours would play out.
As it turned out, 8-year-old Leia Carrico and her 5-year-old sister Caroline were better prepared to survive some difficult winter conditions than most kids. That was due to the lessons they had been taught by Miranda 4-H.
The girls were able to take lessons taught by instructor Justin Lehnert and use them to keep themselves safe for almost two full days.
As a result of that instruction, Lehnert is now headed to Washington, D.C., to be honored for his work as a volunteer.
“We don’t have a lot of activities for the kids, but we have such a beautiful and amazing area right here in the heart of the redwoods,” Lehnert said Friday. “We want to encourage the kids and empower them to feel confident. You go to any of these local schools and there are no fences, their backyards are the woods and we have a freedom here in that we trust our kids on a level people used to do historically.”
Leia and Caroline were part of Lehnert’s Outdoor Adventure Skills Project, where they learned how to start a fire — something they attempted while missing, despite heavy rain — find shelter and, most importantly in this incident, when to remain in place so that it would make it easier for rescuers to locate them.
“When I first learned there were kids missing, I was very concerned and when I learned the names, I realized I knew these girls and I hoped I had taught them enough and passed on something for them to rely upon,” Lehnert said. “I felt like maybe I hadn’t done enough and it happened as my wife was out of town and I was at home with four kids and I couldn’t contribute the way I wanted to.”
Miranda 4-H adult volunteer Justin Lehnert, left, accepts an award from Dorina Espinoza of Humboldt County 4-H at a meeting on Tuesday night. (Shanna Archibold, Miranda 4-H — contributed)
Imparting survival skills
Not only had Lehnert done enough, Leia and Caroline had also done enough to retain lessons such as how to gather water from a huckleberry leaf, how to find shelter under a bush to remain dry, or something as simple as dragging your foot to leave a deep footprint.
It was by locating a child-sized bootprint that two volunteer searchers — Delbert Chumley and Abram Hill, members of the Piercy Volunteer Fire Department —  were able to discover the two girls off a deer track in the woods near their home.
For Lehnert and others involved in 4-H, that two little girls were able to care for themselves in very trying circumstances is a nod to the importance of the program and how important a role the club and its various classes and programs plays in the rural community.
“It reminds me of something Justin told me after the girls had been found,” said Dorina Espinoza, 4-H advisor with University of California Cooperative Extension in Eureka. “He was ecstatic the two sisters came out relatively unharmed and it’s a wonderful reinforcement for those skills being applied at that young an age and he said he hopes those skills are still useful in 30 years. He talks about what steps to take when you are out in the woods. They learn about edible plant leaves, what essential items to take with you, how to leave a trace like intentionally deep footprints or leaving wrappers. I think once they realized they were lost, they turned to the basic survival skills.”
Those skills worked and at around 11:30 a.m. Sunday morning, the girls were being brought in by ATV from where they were located to be reunited with mom and dad.
“It’s how our community works. Those girls are amazing and it’s a testament to really good parenting because those parents (Travis and Misty) are really involved, both at home and in the community,” said Lehnert, who has three children involved in 4-H, including his oldest son. “We encourage the hands-on lessons. The kids plan the meals and the food for cooking at a campsite, they trade chores and that sort of hands-on training really imprints into your brain. Instead of reading it in a book or listening to someone talk at you, it really brings it home how important those lessons are and how important it is for the kids to take the lead.”
Lehnert and his wife, Hunter, who own Redwood Adventure Sports, are being flown to Washington, D.C, by the national 4-H council and they will attend the organization’s annual gala dinner and legacy awards. Justin Lehnert will be honored for his work and he’s hoping that the curriculum he’s developed will be used to help other chapters develop their own training lessons.
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Lehnert’s day job is to teach people how to paddleboard and kayak safely, how to hike, and to generally enjoy the outdoors in an area known for its outdoor recreational opportunities. Teaching children basic skills about what to do in the outdoors is one of the ways he gives back to his community and impacts lives at the same time.
“My 5-year-old came home the other day and wanted to help start the fire,” Lehnert said. “We didn’t use a lighter or anything like that. Instead, we did it with a flint and steel and he was able to make it spark and we got the fire started. That sense of empowerment really hits home and the kids feel good about themselves. I’m thrilled to be able to add something to their lives and to 4-H and maybe what I teach can be of value to others and we can get this into the national curriculum.”
Upcoming events
A survival training session is scheduled at Redwood Adventure Sports in Miranda on March 16 and a part of the proceeds will go to Miranda 4-H. Additionally, the Miranda 4-H Club is preparing for its annual youth summit on March 23. The youth summit will take place at College of the Redwoods Eureka campus and the keynote speakers this year will be Betty Chinn and Southern Humboldt resident Kym Kemp, who is also an adult volunteer with 4-H.
“The 2019 Northcoast Youth Summit is organized by teen 4-H members and other teens from Humboldt and Del Norte Counties,” said Shanna Archibold, Miranda 4-H leader. “It is a fun and educational event with such important workshops as ‘Split Second Self Defense’ and ‘Fight Like a Girl’ to ‘Human Trafficking Awareness’ and ‘Social Media Safety.’”
Dan Squier can be reached at 707-441-0528. 

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