Celebrate 4-H Week by joining up
By Rachel Mendell
This week we have been celebrating 4H week and I would like to share my reasons for cheerleading the program.
Growing up in Phoenix, I had heard of 4-H, but had never known anyone in 4-H. I was raised Lutheran and was involved in a group called Lutheran Girl Pioneers which is a little like Girl Scouts except that you earn charms to hang on a bracelet instead of badges. (LGP did not sell cookies, alas.)
Our large family started 4H the year after we moved to this area from Pataskala. Our small club, Higher Ground, included four to seven families, depending on the year. Soon after starting the club we added a Cloverbud group as well.
I was amazed at the amount of educational materials my family and I worked through each summer. The materials were well-written, incremental, and contained many opportunities for further study in the topic. Some families I got to know even bought the books from the extension office for their own projects after the 4H season was over.
Even though we lived in the country, we were unsure about taking on the responsibility of farm animals, so among the project we took were Rope, Computers, Small Engines, Gardening (both flower and vegetable), Rockets, Cats I and II, Small Animals (gerbils, hamsters, aquariums, parakeets), Archery, Fishing, Sewing (for self and for others), Lawn Care, Remote Controlled Vehicles, Veterinary Science, Carpentry and Working With Wood, Cooking, Baking and Writing.
Besides working through three to four books per child per summer with four to six of my children, there were other solid skills we all learned. The meetings were organized using Robert’s Rules of Order. Each member of the group was responsible for something – running the meeting, being the helper, taking notes, counting and keeping track of the money, writing the reports for the newspaper, bringing the snack, deciding what organized game would be played after the meeting was adjourned. I watched my children make motions, take nominations and vote. I was amazed how fast they learned the pledges that we recited at each meeting.
There were the community service projects too. Higher Ground took a Meals on Wheels route one day each year and cleaned up a section of our many county roads for Trash Bash. The older children worked the food booth at the fair which taught them skills in working with people, making change and saying “I’m sorry” when a mistake was made. One year we sold apples. Another year were adopted a barrel of flowers at the fairground.
The most challenging responsibilities for my family were the demonstrations and the judging. The demonstrations in our club were set up the meeting before. This worked well, because the children knew they had two weeks to prepare. I liked the demonstrations because I learned so much. It also gave us ideas for our next demonstration. In our 4-H group we used our demonstrations as a sort of pre-judging for our projects.
The county judging was a little more high-stress. When a 4-Her takes four projects, judging day can be nerve wracking. Multiply that by six and that is what we kept track of. In our meetings we practiced how to speak to a judge (eye contact, respect, shaking hands, no hats, smiling) and quizzed each other in preparation. At home I made sure everyone had everything they needed at least two days before.
Watching the judging at the county fairgrounds was always a learning experience. We were all gathered as a group and talking, while at the same time listening for our member names to be called. An invisible line was drawn between the quiet judging area and the chaos that was kids, parents, advisers, small animals and posters. Once the child crossed the line toward the judge they were on their own – sort of like moving out of the house for 15 minutes. I must admit I felt pride in watching each of my children shake the judge’s hand and answer his questions.
The judges were always kind, although one judge had the reputation for asking very hard questions and was feared because of that. One of my sons had that gentleman as a judge and reported back that he “was a really nice guy.”
Once judging was over our family always had pizza. It was a celebration for the children and a huge relief for me.
Now my youngest is in 4-H with the Iberia Junior Farmers and we have dipped our big toe into the world of farm animals. I am amazed how comfortable she is with carrying her broiler hens and handling her rabbits. All I remember about chickens from my childhood is being chased by a rooster, and rabbits were something my dad hunted on the weekends. Rabbits and layers are now part of my life and I curse raccoons and groundhogs along with the rest of my neighbors.
With the raising of meat comes the show and the auction. My youngest was nervous to the point of tears at her first showing and the judge had to bend down to hear her answers to his questions, but she did very well. Last year she was still nervous, but handled her rabbit like a pro. She has also done very well at auction.
I would like to encourage all parents that have been sitting on the fence about 4-H to join. There is still time, and you don’t have to live out in the country. Call your local extension office and they can hook you up with a club. It’s a lot of work, but worth it. I’ve watched my grown-up children fly through job interviews and accept the challenges of leadership in many areas. I know this is because of the skills they practiced in 4-H.
Give you children an extra edge in life – Join 4-H.