Future Homemakers attracting more boys

October 09, 1994|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,Sun Staff Writer

The girls who persuaded Nate Hunter Jr. to join the Future Homemakers of America just wanted to get his phone number.

They were working the FHA table at freshman orientation last year. Nate, who had just moved to Westminster, didn't know any better when the girls told him he should join FHA.

"They said it stood for Fun House Association," Nate said.

He believed them.

"They were probably just flirting to start out with," said Jenny Carter, a senior and president of the statewide Future Homemakers of America, and her local club at Westminster High School. "But it ended up he became a member."

Around the state and nation, more boys are joining FHA, which is more than junior June Cleavers. Nationally, 16 percent of the members are boys, one adviser said. The national president is a boy, Jeff Polyak of Edison High School in Edison, N.J. In fact, the last four national presidents have been boys.

In Maryland, the Eastern Shore counties have the heaviest male participation, partly because the clubs there start with middle school students rather than high schoolers, Jenny said.

Nate joined for the same reason that most girls do: The club is one of the sure-fire ways to rack up the community service hours every high school student needs to graduate.

In Westminster, the club focuses on promoting literacy and working with children in preschools.

Members go to homeless shelters to read and give books to children. At one such event, they dressed up as characters from books.

For Jenny, the club offers an opportunity to work with children. She plans a career as a teacher.

"I don't expect to be a future homemaker," Nate said.

"A lot of people have different views for what the definition of a homemaker is," Jenny said. "Some people said a homemaker is anyone who participates in a family."

Sara Crigger, a Westminster High senior, said she thought of the stereotypical definition of a homemaker when she first heard of the FHA.

"I thought it was like sewing and cooking and stuff," she said. "But once I got in, it was more teaching and community service. I want to be an occupational therapist. I like to work with children. This will be a good start."

The only cooking they might do as a club would be getting a snack together for the young readers in the literacy programs they promote.

As for sewing, it's been a long time since the club members had any interest in that, said the Westminster club's adviser, home economics teacher Joan Harrington.

"We're making a banner for our 50th anniversary," she said. "But we're gluing all the pieces on."

The FHA is trying to change its image, if not its name. Across the country, members and advisers alike use the acronym much more often than they say the name, and not just because it's shorter.

It's that touchy word "homemaker."

At the national conventions, members have voted on whether to change the name, and the motion has failed, Jenny said.

"I see two sides to it," she said. "Some of the people felt it would be a slap in the face to change the name. But it does need a new name, because over the years, the organization has changed. It's not as much home economics."

She and some other members said a new name should incorporate words such as community, leadership or service.

For their part in distributing books supplied by the Reading Is Fundamental Foundation, the Westminster club got to go to Washington last year and rub elbows with U.S. Sen. Charles Robb of Virginia, Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts and actor Christopher Lloyd.

But even if the FHA isn't changing its name, schools are starting to use different words for the department that was once called home economics.

In Carroll County, this is the first year of the "family and consumer sciences" department.

The classes are the same: marriage, child development, foods, needle craft and other household sciences. But soon the names will change, Mrs. Harrington said. Next year foods will be food technology."

The boy-girl composition of classes varies in family and consumer sciences courses. Very few boys take needle craft, fabrics or child development, but the enrollment is about 50-50 in a class called living on your own and in foods.

Although the Westminster FHA Club has had at least two boys a year in the last six years, Nate is the only boy in the club this fall. After a membership drive this fall, Mrs. Harrington expects to get a few more. Some join for community service, others join because their girlfriends are members.

Is it difficult being the only boy in the group this year?

Nate smiled. "No," he said.

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