After having the opportunity to speak with Karen Connors, the 4-H program coordinator for Baraga, Houghton and Keweenaw counties, I realized that it wasn't just my home county of Fond du Lac, Wis., that deals with the misconception that 4-H is specifically for children with farm backgrounds.
Although the vast majority of my time spent preparing for the fair was focused on training my dairy cattle and sheep for the show ring, there were plenty of other projects for me to take advantage of. On top of showing dairy cattle for 12 years and sheep for three years, I also participated in arts and crafts, clothing, writing, and photography. I generally managed to bring upwards of 60 projects to the fair each year; however, because my passion was in writing, at least 15 of those projects were papers for school to go along with my eight dairy entries.
Besides exhibiting at the fair, I was also elected to serve as my club in an officer capacity throughout middle and high school. As a club leader, I worked with other members to run successful meetings using parliamentary procedure, served as a role model for the younger members and encouraged involvement at all times. Through the 4-H program, I learned how to be organized, responsible and timely. I also took an active role in teaching the younger members the values 4-H taught me with the 4-H pledge:
"I pledge my head to clearer thinking, my heart to greater loyalty, my hands to larger service and my health to better living for my club my community, my country and my world."
As a high schooler, the opportunities available to me and my fellow 4-Her's increased. My freshman year, I was selected to attend the Wisconsin 4-H Youth Conference where I learned about the different programs available through 4-H at the state level and got to meet other passionate 4-H members. Perhaps my most memorable 4-H trip came my sophomore year when I was selected for the American Spirit Trip with five other Fond du Lac County 4-Her's. We joined about 40 other youth from around Wisconsin on a bus trip exploring some of the most historic sites in the United States, including Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Niagara Falls. I closed out my 4-H travel experience with Citizenship Washington Focus, a trip also available to Michigan 4-H youth. During CWF, I got to interact with youth from across the nation learning about the democratic process and our role as citizens. While in Washington, D.C., we also got to visit the various monuments and museums to further familiarize ourselves with our nation's history. Although traveling across the state and nation was truly a blessing, I would have to say the greatest benefit was interacting with other 4-H youth and making lifelong friends.
But 4-H isn't just about projects, the fair, or trips, it's also about learning to be leaders and serving our communities. Growing up, our 4-H club met once a month and each meeting had a different focus. In December, our club typically went caroling at our local nursing home and then built gingerbread houses. In January, we went to a different nursing home and played bingo with the residents. Other times, we would ring bells as families for The Salvation Army or participate in Adopt-a-Highway and clean up trash. These activities were always my favorite because the nursing home residents always had a story to share and a smile on their faces and the other activities allowed us to take an active role in the way our community looks and feels.
I am proud to say I am still taking an active part in my hometown 4-H club by serving as the clothing leader for the past three years with the help of my mom. Once a 4-H member, always a 4-H member and each member lives to follow the 4-H motto, "to make the best better."
Although some think 4-H is just about animals and farms, if you are curious I encourage you to call your local 4-H program coordinator and find a club that might meet your needs.
Ashley Curtis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.