My 4-H Experience

September 10, 2019

My 4-H Experience

A few days ago, I drove out of the Purdue Extension office for what was probably the last time, at least for a while, after an exciting day at Kings Island for my very last Jr. Leader achievement trip. I had just finished up my last fair as a 4-Her a few weeks prior, so this was really it. It's over.

I didn't join 4-H until I was in 7th grade, believe it or not. Every year I would go to the fair and look at all the cool projects on display and pass the table with information and flyers.  My mom thought it was too much work (she wasn't wrong exactly) so I never joined. When I was in 7th grade some friends of mine told me about a club called Jr. Leaders that they thought I would be interested in. I went to my first meeting and felt so out of place and had no idea what was going on at all. It also happened to be the night they were electing new officers, and without the knowledge that I could "respectfully decline" I got elected as the at large officer (one who fills in for absent officers.) Luckily, I only had to fulfill this role once when the secretary was absent. Back then I had no knowledge on parliamentary procedure or how to take minutes. Somehow, I managed to learn how to properly take meeting minutes (or rather figure it out on my own) while at the same time trying to keep up with the meeting itself.

The first year or two was a bit of a struggle as I tried to get a grasp on what exactly was going down at these meetings, trying to meet deadlines, and following the project guidelines as the project manual told me to.  My first year I can remember sitting at the table days before judging sticking my pictures onto the poster board and attempting to fill out the pile of papers that were due along with my project.  I could only hope I was doing everything right as I showed up at project judging that first year and stood there while the judge critiqued my project. I ended up receiving a Grand Champion ribbon my very first year (not trying to brag or anything.)

After that first year I finally started to understand what was going on and was able to offer up my opinion at meetings as well as interact more at events. Throughout my 6 years in Jr. Leaders I held the following offices: at large, devotions, and treasurer.  Being a part of the club and being an officer has given me leadership skills I will take with me into my future career field.  I learned a lot from being an officer and I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to fill every role.

            The club name “Junior Leaders” certainly implies what I gained from it- leadership.  One of the most valuable traits I gained from my 4-H experience was leadership.  Growing up I was always shy and cautious.  Rarely would I ever try something new or step out of my comfort zone.  That changed, however, after my first few years in 4-H.  Being homeschooled I wasn’t used to much social interaction and certainly not speaking in front of groups of people.  4-H has given me the confidence and skill to speak in front of people as well as share my opinion in meetings.

            During my second year, I was asked by the 4-H educator to assist her in a 4-H presentation at an elementary school (ironically the same school I attended before I was homeschooled.)  This was one of the first times I can remember speaking in front of a large audience (even if it was mostly kids.)  I can’t even remember what exactly I talked about but all I have to say is that thanks to a few more years in 4-H, my public speaking skills have improved significantly.

Also during my second year, I had the opportunity to lead a photography club alongside another one of my fellow Jr. Leaders.  This was probably one of my biggest responsibilities in 4-H; since we were in charge of planning all the meetings ourselves with only the help of a handbook as well as teaching every meeting.  For the little experience I had with teaching, I have to say it went over pretty well.  That experience taught me the importance of teamwork and being able to teach in a way the younger kids would understand.

The summer of my first year in 4-H and Jr. Leaders I applied to be a counselor for the mini 4-H two-day day camp.  I was accepted along with a handful of other counselors and had such a fun time spending those two days with the minis.  A few of them I’ve gotten to see go all the way through mini 4-H to “big 4-H” (definitely makes you feel old.)  One of my favorite parts of my 4-H experience was getting to know and work with the minis through camp and other various programs throughout the year.  I ended up being a mini 4-H all six years I was a member and loved it every time.

A program that was just recently started a few years ago is the 4-H ambassador program.  As an ambassador, you assist with various 4-H events, with the biggest one being the school promotions in the fall (similar to what I did my first year.)  I was an ambassador for my last two years of being a 4-Her and I enjoyed helping promote 4-H in the schools and assisting with events such as the yearly 4-H open house.  Again, I was able to expand my public speaking skills and realized how much I loved talking about 4-H to potential members.

            While the minis have their daycamp each summer, older 4-H members (3rd-7th grade) have the opportunity to go to an overnight camp and join members from three other counties.  I unfortunately never got to go as a camper; however, this past summer I was able to go as a first- and last-time counselor.  As embarrassing as this is to say, this was my first time going to an overnight camp.  As a homeschooler there weren’t many opportunities for that; moreover, I frankly didn’t like being away from home as a kid.

            I am so, so glad I did go this year though.  It was 2 days packed with fun activities, games, and some not-so-great food from the cafeteria.  I stayed in a cabin with 10 campers and three other counselors from other counties.  Going into it I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect but it certainly exceeded whatever expectations I had.  The weather couldn’t have been more perfect (as all the activities were mostly outdoors), and I only came home slightly burnt; but it was one hundred percent worth it.  I highly regret not doing this in past years; however, I’m extremely thankful I had the opportunity to go this year.

             The people I’ve met through 4-H are some of the most amazing people I’ve met in my life.  When you’re homeschooled there aren’t a lot of opportunities to be socially active.  Moreover, sometimes they just don’t work out.  I was a part of numerous groups and clubs but I never found the right one.  Or people would come and go, making it hard to connect with them.  In 4-H though, I finally found “my people.”  Growing up I was extremely shy and quiet; not exactly the outgoing type.  Which meant I usually got left out of a lot of things because I wasn’t “the life of the party” or anything like that.  The group of people I was “friends” with for a while weren’t my kind of people and I never really felt like I fit in.

            4-H gave me some of the best friends I’ll probably ever have.  We all come from different backgrounds and have different interests; yet we come together as one big (and probably dysfunctional) family.  I think through Jr. Leaders we not only learn how to be leaders on our own but learn how to work with other to accomplish great things.  Either way, I’m very blessed to have met so many great people through this program and I’m honored to call them not only my friends, but family.

Out of everything I’ve experienced in my life thus far, I wouldn’t trade the years spent in 4-H for anything.  My only regret is not joining sooner so I would have a few more years to look back on.  Unfortunately, though, that it not the case and I still have 6 years of 4-H to look back on and treasure. I’ve learned so much and gained valuable leadership skills in 4-H that will help me in the future (and already have.)  I’ve grown as an individual and would definitely not be where I am today without 4-H. 

            As sad as it is for me to say goodbye to something that was such a huge part of my life, it was time for that season to come to an end.  I hope to continue to stay involved in other ways with 4-H; however, I’m excited to see what comes next.  Whatever that may be, 4-H has left a lasting impact on me that I will never forget, and I will always treasure my years in 4-H as some of the most valuable years of my life.


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