Answering the call
It is one of the finer things that adults from all walks of life are doing for young people. They spend anywhere from an occasional hour up to several hours a month helping 4-H members learn leadership, citizenship and important life skills, the ...
It is one of the finer things that adults from all walks of life are doing for young people. They spend anywhere from an occasional hour up to several hours a month helping 4-H members learn leadership, citizenship and important life skills, the three tenets of the 4-H program.
Shane McGregor, a trade and seed manager for Monsanto in Salem, S.D., who showed dairy heifers as a 4-H kid, is one such volunteer.
"One of the main reasons I do it is that I truly do enjoy doing that sort of thing," he says. "I have always enjoyed it, growing up, and I just want to continue to do it."
He says he likes being able to see the kids learn from him, and seeing their improvement from one year to the next.
"I help judge dairy shows and round-robin contests," he says. "I also help younger kids learn how to get their animals ready for the show."
McGregor recalls his own first trip into the show ring as a young 4-Her. He was inexperienced, and his dairy heifer was not cooperating.
"I was supposed to set it up, and it was not setting up, so I basically reached back with my hand and grabbed the heifer's leg and pushed it back, which is obviously the wrong thing to do," he says. "I was 8 years old then. I just remember them saying over the loudspeakers something like, 'Well, this young man is having problems with his animal today, but he sure is trying hard, and I encourage him to keep doing it more. I really like the kid's smile.'
"So I wasn't doing anything right, but she made me feel good about it. I've remembered that ever since, and every time I ever showed an animal, I enjoyed myself doing it," he says. "That was the biggest thing."
As a judge himself, McGregor now makes sure he mentions that as one of his reasons for placing the young contestants the way he does.
"Any time you mention that and you see an 8- or 10- or 12 year-old come in, and they know that I'm the judge . . . they come in with a great big smile on their face," he says.
Once the smiles are there, the rest seems to fall into place a little easier, and one of the real benefits of 4-H, self-confidence, begins to show in the kids, he says. And with volunteer mentors around to help kids learn how to do things safely and properly, they eventually become experts at their projects.
"They get that confidence that it takes to get better at stuff and try new things that they're not typically used to doing," McGregor says.
That kind of knowledge -- and the willingness to share that knowledge -- is what is needed to keep the 4-H program strong.
Monsanto is working with 4-H on a National 4-H Volunteer Initiative to increase volunteerism. Begun in June, the National 4-H Volunteer Initiative will provide 4-H more than 510,000 volunteers with hands-on training to help them provide the best opportunities for 4-H kids to learn.
"Monsanto sees the 4-H program's commitment to agriculture, and we definitely want to see that program succeed," McGregor says.
And the different kinds of opportunities for adult volunteers are increasing.
"I think part of the thing that stops people from being a volunteer for 4-H is maybe they don't think they are the best at it or they don't have enough time to do it," McGregor says.
With 4-H adding a wide variety of new programs, some of which are not just for rural kids, the opportunities now exist for a far wider range of adult expertise that can be put to good use.
"I have an 8-year-old niece that is doing 4-H this year," McGregor says. "She showed a dairy animal, she made an electric extension cord, and she did a PowerPoint presentation on the state of South Dakota."
Each of these projects required a volunteer with specific knowledge to advise her. The amount of time they put in as a volunteer was up to them.
McGregor puts the value of that time into perspective: "Really, an hour a year with a young kid goes a tremendously long way."
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