Sophomore headed to Washington


Michael Claycamp found himself in a tough spot.

After pitching the concept for his business, Aquapon, the Trinity Lutheran High School sophomore was selected as the winner of the Innovate Within regional competition at Wilson Education Center in Charlestown.

He received $1,000 and a plaque and advanced to the state competition April 9 in Indianapolis.

But there was one problem: that would fall in the middle of him attending the National 4-H Conference in Washington, D.C.

He entered Innovate Within before learning he was one of four Indiana high school 4-H’ers earning a trip to the nation’s capital and didn’t realize the state competition was at the same time.

He decided to turn down advancing in the competition, resulting in the second-place team of seniors Sarah Rollins and Sophie Kreis from Brownstown Central High School moving on. Rollins is Claycamp’s cousin.

They will vie for a chance to win a prize package worth more than $100,000, including full tuition for a year at any Indiana college, internships, mentoring and cash prizes.

“It’s one of those I hated turning down, but I would rather my cousin try it for her senior year,” Claycamp said. “I’m just a sophomore, and I’d rather go to D.C.”

His mother, Rebecca, said his action brought a room full of adults to tears, and she was honored to witness him make such an honorable decision.

“As a mother, it was the proudest moment I have ever felt,” she said. “The youth in our society deserve all the positive attention they can get. Jackson County youth are amazing.”

Rollins and Kreis won the Jackson County Maverick Challenge and placed third at regional with their concept for Romantique jumpsuits and rompers, and Claycamp placed third in the county competition with Aquapon, a system that allows him to grow certain fruits and vegetables year-round.

Rollins and Kreis won $2,750 through the Maverick Challenge, and Claycamp won $1,250.

With Innovate Within, they were among more than 290 students from 65 high schools registered to participate, and more than 80 teams submitted video pitches to be considered in the first round.

The winners from each of Indiana’s nine regions will compete at state at the Indiana State Museum.

“Michael did an excellent job presenting his product, and since he will not be able to attend the state competition, we are very grateful for this opportunity,” Kreis said. “Sarah and I are looking forward to seeing each winner’s presentation and having the opportunity to present our business idea one last time. We couldn’t have asked for a better experience through all the Maverick Challenge events and Innovate presentations.”

Claycamp said he found out about both competitions when he was a student at Seymour High School in the first semester. He decided to do them after attending the Indiana 4-H Entrepreneurship Academy last summer at Purdue University.

For the academy, he had to write an essay as part of the application process and then went to Purdue and was paired with a partner from Guatemala. Together, they developed a presentation about aquaponics greenhouses and earned three awards.

Claycamp said he has been interested in greenhouses since he and his father built a small one at home when he was younger.

When the family later moved to Cortland, Claycamp started working on greenhouses there, including one for the aquaponic system.

“I started working on that after I saw a video about farming in China where they placed tilapia into the rice fields to produce rice, and farmers were getting almost 500 percent more money from the fish and the rice because there were no insects to eat the rice, and the waste from the fish fertilized and made rice better,” he said.

Right now, he is helping tear down a barn to make way for a 3,000-square-foot greenhouse for his Aquapon business.

“We’ll have the carbon dioxide from the cows going into it, and hopefully with designing it how I want to design it, it should be able to produce 30 percent faster and then a lot more,” Claycamp said.

He can grow any above-ground fruit or vegetable, including tomatoes, cucumbers and lettuces.

“Any kind of green or vining plant, I can usually grow really good,” he said. “Being in the greenhouse, a closed system, I’m able to contain it all, and I’m able to grow yearlong instead of places where they can only grow seasonally. I’m able to harvest lettuce 23 times a year, so 23 different harvests.”

Claycamp is working to make his business a limited liability company.

“All I have to do now is just file, and I actually own a company,” he said. “I want to start here (at home) and eventually find a little piece of land when I get older inside town or in Louisville or somewhere so I can make it really commercialized.”

Claycamp said he has 4-H to thank for leading him to a business venture.

“I didn’t really have plans to start a business. I just wanted my greenhouse for my use,” he said. “After 4-H, I kind of got more into it, I started the Maverick Challenge, and during the Maverick Challenge working with Mrs. (Dawn) Jones, I just thought about maybe filing for LLC.”

His involvement in 4-H also helped him find out about the national conference. He came across an application on the 4-H website, filled it out and wrote an essay.

“I have never been to D.C. before, and I thought it would be a cool idea,” he said.

In his essay, he had to write about a problem in the community that 4-H’ers could help solve. After posting the topic on Facebook, most of the feedback he received revolved around the drug epidemic in Jackson County.

Through talking to people and doing research about the drug problems, Claycamp was able to dig into the numbers and facts a little more.

When he received an email letting him know his essay qualified him to go to Washington, D.C., Claycamp said he was surprised, but the opportunity meant a lot. The only expense he had was plane tickets.

He will meet the other three Indiana students at the airport in Indianapolis to head to the National 4-H Conference, which is April 7-12. They will join around 200 high school 4-H’ers from the United States, Puerto Rico and Canada.

Claycamp will attend sessions on vocational trades and give a presentation at the end of the week. He also will have time for sightseeing.

“I want to learn more about the capital a little bit, the history, of course, because it’s the first time going to D.C.,” he said. “And I want to just learn more about the vocational trades and other people, other states in the country and how they do it.”

As part of his National 4-H Conference application, Michael Claycamp had to write about a problem in the community that 4-H’ers could help solve. He focused on the drug issue. Here is the essay that earned him a trip to the conference in Washington, D.C.:

How would you feel as a kid if you read in the local paper that your mom and dad had died from a drug overdose? Later, you found out it was because your parent was addicted to heroin.

Sadly, this is becoming a reality for many kids in Jackson County. In the past years, the number of overdoses and the use of opioids has increased significantly. Children are often placed in foster care or with a family member while their parents receive treatment or after they die. Some of these kids will never benefit from having a stable mother or father. This can cause them to turn to drugs and alcohol when they get older.

Each day, thousands of people read the local newspaper in Jackson County. More and more often, they are reading the headlines related to opioids and overdoses. Many people blame the drug user and their addiction. What about when the users are kids? Is it a child’s fault that they are addicted to drugs?

The ages of the victims are getting younger and younger. We need to find ways to help the victims, the children and the families. Many of the adults turn to drugs when they lose jobs or a loved one. The drugs enable them to feel numb and fill a void in their lives. Unfortunately, many children are turning to drugs due to the same reasons.

Drugs do not just hurt the families. They hurt the communities and environment also. Drugs can cause the jails to become overcrowded. The cost of Narcan is costly for the taxpayer. Drugs also lead to unplanned pregnancies, HIV, AIDS and other diseases. The use of drugs causes automobile accidents that often kill or injure innocent people.

Addicts do not care where they store their needles when they are using, and they are not properly disposed of. Addicts drop the needles at parks, schools, campgrounds and roadsides. This causes hazards to children. Many times, the children are witness to the overdoses and drug use. They are also witness to the violence that surrounds the drug use.

4-H is not a replacement for a mother or father; however, 4-H can give children other forms of coping skills instead of using drugs and alcohol. 4-H gives children opportunities to go to camps, do projects and make new friends. 4-H provides positive reinforcements, such as learning, leadership and sometimes ribbons and awards. To some children, this positive reinforcement is just what they need to stay drug-free. This small piece of plastic or metal might be the first sign of accomplishment that a child might have.

As the child grows older, they are offered more trips, camps and contests to focus on. These opportunities can take children to places they have never been and might not ever be able to go. These opportunities provide kids with an education that they are not able to learn in school. The opportunities can also establish scholarships and money for college. Eventually, the child will earn that last ribbon, but the ribbon is not what they will remember. The friendships and education that they have gained will be what remains and could be what replaces the family they lost to drugs.

4-H members are taught how to be leaders, volunteers and positive influences in their community. 4-H’ers assist younger children and serve as role models. The children involved in 4-H are provided with safe environments where they can grow and develop without fear of judgment. Children who have been victims of the drug problems in our communities can learn who they really are as a person. They can be themselves and learn to be positive influences in our communities.

4-H in my community has helped thousands of people. More than 800 kids enroll each year, and there are hundreds of volunteers at our local 4-H fair and events. This is a large community of positive supports for children who are victims of drug use.

In 2016, 15 people died, including two infants, from opioid use. Their lives were celebrated at a candlelight vigil. In 2017, there have been 13 known opioid deaths, and more will likely occur before the end of the year.

Each candle represents a life that was lost by an adult or child. Each candle represents a loss and a cost to our community. The drug epidemic in Jackson County and Indiana is growing. 4-H is just one way in which we can guarantee that the children and families in our community have positive supports and opportunities. 4-H can help provide a child who has lost everything with a way to grow and begin their lives over. 4-H can help prevent children from using drugs.

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