Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Hot for 4-H

I will invest a little sweat equity in the 4-H program today. On second thought, make that a lot of sweat equity.

Today is the first day of the 2010 version of the Stafford County Fair. For much of the day, I’ll be in the 4-H building at the fairgrounds. I’ve lost track of exactly how many years I’ve been a foods superintendent for the fair in Stafford, but it has to be approaching 15 years. Today is another day of battling the heat in the un-airconditioned exhibit building and watching the frosting on unsuspecting cakes puddle around the bottom of the plate.

There will also be perceptible wilting experienced by the children and adults who come into the building to enter or help with 4-H displays today and throughout the rest of the week.

I was at the fairgrounds yesterday afternoon setting up the 4-H foods area. Let's put it this way. I won't be spending much time on my hair this morning because it won't matter one iota after being in that metal building for about 10 minutes. That is definitely where the sweat equity comes in.

So why do I – or the multitude of other volunteers – continue to show up year after year – some of us after our 4-Hers have left the nest?

For me, the answer is easy. And I suspect it’s the same for most people who volunteer at their county fair – whether it’s in Stafford, Cloud, Harper, Rice, Finney, Haskell or any other fair in Kansas. It’s because we believe in the 4-H program.

I have evidence of the 4-H programs’ power. I grew up as a Pratt County 4-Her. My husband continues to volunteer in Stafford County where he was a 4-Her longer ago than he likes to admit. He's still helping, too. This morning, he's helping one 4-H family haul their animals to the fairgrounds. Tomorrow, he'll help with the hog show.

I think 4-H helped shape us into the people we are today - people who care about and work for their community.

Both our children benefited from 4-H – with everything from project knowledge, leadership skills, goal setting and completion, record keeping and social networking long before there was anything like Facebook or Twitter. Our daughter’s career choice as a dietitian is directly related to her long-time participation in the 4-H foods and nutrition project. Our son’s choice as a college public relations major came – in part – because of tours he took while a delegate at the 4-H Global Conference in Kansas City.

I witnessed my children's growth from the time they were 7-year-old, first-year 4-Hers to the time they were confident, committed 4-H veterans.

This was Jill's very first year for foods judging. She looks a little scared by the whole process.

But by the time she was veteran 4-Her, she was teaching others, and she, too, was serving as a foods superintendent at the county fair.

It’s a busy world we live in today. There are definitely more options for families and kids than there were when I was a child – whether that’s playing MAYB ball during the summer or other activities. But I contend that 4-H gives kids – and their families – more benefits than any of those other activities.

I hope you’ll go to the county fair nearest you. See what your local 4-Hers have been up to.

I always get a little misty eyed as I watch a pony-tailed girl talk the judge’s ear off during bucket calf judging.

The same goes for watching a little boy’s exasperated face when his pig reaches the show ring and exuberantly celebrates its freedom from the hog barn by running around the ring – instead of the more sedate pace of other barrows in the class.

These are the mental scrapbook photos all 4-H parents have. And, yes, it’s those things that keep us working in buildings that hover at 100 degrees on hot July and August days. Because we believe kids today should have the same opportunity to grow that we did – or our kids did.

So thanks to all those extension agents, fair boards and volunteers who keep the 4-H program growing into its second century of impacting the lives of Kansas youth and their families.


  1. 4-H provided great times at our house, too! I served as Club Co-Leader for several years. 4-H would never survive without dedicated people like you! I hope you at least have a fan. Today is supposed to be horrible. But... nothing like Fair Week to make you forget the heat and enjoy the fun!

  2. Wow! This was not the day to be in that metal building! I remember how hot it gets! Good for you for still being involved in 4-H after your kids are grown!