WORTHINGTON — In her final year of 4-H, DeLayne Kuhl should have been competing with her fluffy dog, Nino, in obedience and agility at the 4-H Regional Dog Show. She would have likely brought an exhibit to the county fair for child development and joined her Okabena Bees 4-H Club to talk about their latest Community Pride project.

As a 4-H Ambassador and youth leader, she would have volunteered to help as a judge’s assistant or to hand out ribbons at one of the livestock shows.

Instead, Kuhl is one of a few Nobles County 4-H members who won’t get to enjoy “the lasts” in a youth organization she’s been a part of for a decade.

In Nobles County, 4-H’ers will participate in Achievement Days next week. There will be conference judging on Monday with up to four non-livestock projects, and livestock contests Wednesday through Friday at the fairgrounds in Worthington. All of the events are closed to the general public so that the 4-H program can keep within the 250-person maximum on the fairgrounds.

Since so many events had been cancelled or in limbo due to COVID-19, Kuhl hadn’t worked on any of her projects. She also had other things on her plate — including a double graduation this spring, first from Minnesota West Community & Technical College, and then from Worthington High School in challenging online formats because of the global pandemic.

4-H projects were put on the back burner until early June, and by then she wasn’t sure what would take the place of the county fair.

“Usually you have to think of your projects early,” Kuhl shared. “We didn’t have any meetings, and it kind of got pushed aside. There was just a lot of unknown.”

Kuhl said her 4-H club hasn’t met since January, making it impossible to plan and carry out a community service project this year. The Community Pride project, always a collaboration with club members, is one of her favorite things about 4-H.

“One of my favorite (Community Pride projects) was the foster care packages,” said Kuhl of the activity club members did just last year.

Her family does foster care, so they suggested the idea of making care packages for kids entering the foster care system. The idea was met with overwhelming support by club members, and the 4-H’ers volunteered to approach local businesses seeking donations.

Each care package consisted of a drawstring bag filled with essential personal hygiene products, and once they were assembled, they were donated to Nobles County Family Services.

“We had great participation through the club — it was really fun,” Kuhl shared.

Service oriented projects weren’t reserved solely for Community Pride projects, however. Kuhl volunteered to deliver Meals on Wheels one year, using the experience to create a citizenship project through 4-H.

“I did that to get my driver’s ed hours,” Kuhl added with a laugh. “I still do Meals on Wheels.”

Child Development was another one of her usual 4-H entries at the fair. As a teen who does a lot of babysitting, Kuhl said she’d come up with age-appropriate activities to help children with their learning.

“My mom teaches summer school and she’d let me come in and do some sort of game or age-appropriate learning there too,” said Kuhl. Summer school, however, was cancelled this year due to the global pandemic.

“It was such a weird year,” she reflected.

Kuhl, the daughter of Kris and Melanie Kuhl, is preparing to leave Worthington behind in a few short weeks to study animal science at South Dakota State University in Brookings. She is considering a career as a small animal veterinarian — a career goal that took shape during her years in 4-H.

“I think a lot of people look at 4-H as a livestock-oriented thing,” Kuhl said. “I’ve never had any livestock.”

What she learned most through 4-H are the leadership skills that will stay with her forever — the ability to do public speaking, carry on a meeting, volunteer in community service and meet new people.

“Through officer positions you get to learn to take notes; you learn parliamentary procedure,” said Kuhl, who served not only as secretary and then president of the Okabena Bees, but also as secretary and now vice-president of the Nobles County 4-H Federation.

“There’s just so much to 4-H,” she said. “I love that it’s based on learning. You learn so much through it and get better throughout the years.”