Stafford County Extension Agent shares her life journey and personal story in 4-H

Amy Collins
St. John News
Amy Collins is the Stafford County Research and Extension Agent who collaborates with the 21st Century 4-H District.

This past week was National 4-H Week across the nation. Stafford County 4-H Members use this week and the month of October, to promote the 4-H program and encourage friends and classmates to join. The 4-H year begins October 1 and runs through September 30 of the following year – so now is the perfect time to sign up!

The world is a crazy, mixed up place right now and I often think how grateful we are to live where we live, in rural America, far, far away from the epicenter of the craziness. After all, we live and work with others who have the same values, morals and wants/needs for their families. We want stability and a wholesome atmosphere in which to raise our kids. So much of this can be connected to 4-H.

We often hear from all kids that they would love to sign up for 4-H, but Mom and Dad said “no”…or “it’s too much work”….or “we don’t have time”. We also hear “Isn’t 4-H just for farm kids?”….”Don’t you have to have animals to be in 4-H?” After 17 years in this job, I’ve heard it all – but I heard it from myself first, right out of my own mouth.

I was a lifelong 4-H member growing up. My interests ranged from photography, to foods & nutrition to livestock. I participated in fundraisers, community service, the county fair and several other events. YES, I remember it being a lot of work. I had to feed and water livestock, not just once, but TWICE a day! (ugh, the nerve of those animals thinking they needed fed twice a day!) I lived in town, so this meant I had to haul feed and water. I had to watch for abscesses, injuries and other medical issues – and sometimes it was a pain – no pun intended.

On the other end of the spectrum, I spent time in the kitchen learning the basics of cooking and helping feed my own family (ugh, the nerve of my family thinking they needed fed THREE times a day!) One summer I remember spending many hours perfecting poppy seed bread for the county fair, all my attempts led to our freezer being full of poppy seed bread loaves wrapped in foil. Just last year, at age 50, I was able to finally eat poppy seed bread again AND enjoy it, since that summer of ’79. As a teenager, I was irritated that 4-H cut into my social life (but did it really?), looking back most of my good friends were in 4-H, they were my social life. We had a great sense of belonging and are still close to this day.

Later on, in college, I was assigned to write about the most meaningful experience thus far in my short 20 years on this earth. I grew up in far Western Kansas…what could I possibly have to contribute to this essay that was any good? So I sat and contemplated and took a hard look at what I had done back in the day. I was a dedicated basketball player, I had been a cheerleader, worked on yearbook…and all those things were great activities that I participated in side-by-side with my friends, but when it came down to it – the most meaningful experiences – all centered around my 4-H career, and I’ll tell you why.

Somehow, after all those years, I found that I had a really strong work ethic. I was definitely more responsible than some of my peers because I was held accountable by my 4-H Club and leaders, I learned how to get the job done. I was creative because of the array of projects I encountered. Turns out, I had my essay - my most meaningful learning experiences were all centered around 4-H.

Guess what employers are constantly looking for in an employee? Yep, work ethic, responsibility, creativeness…understanding, critical thinking, passion, perseverance, and on and on. I once applied for a job in college that I had no prior experience, when I interviewed I didn’t have much to offer up when they asked that particular question and then she asked “Were you in 4-H as a kid?” and I immediately said “YES!” and she hired me on the spot. Since that day, I’ve never forgotten to mention my 4-H career on any scholarship, job application or resume. It made me who I am today.

Fast forward a few years when I had kids who were old enough to be in 4-H. As a working parent, I found myself saying “I don’t know, 4-H can be a lot of work. Do we have time for one more thing?” Then I thought about my kids – what did they deserve? I didn’t want to hold them back because I was too tired or running short on time. I wanted them to learn, grow and become the best people they can be. Sometimes, it meant sending them with another family to a meeting and sometimes I was able to attend. I immediately saw their confidence grow. As a parent, I felt a little inferior because 4-H had changed since I had been a member, but the other 4-H parents took us under their wing and helped us right along and before we knew it, we were learning right along with the kids and it became a really fun activity to do together. We found value in that precious time we didn’t think we had.

Were my kids active in school activities? Yes. Did both parents work full time jobs? Yes. Was it hard to juggle it all? Most definitely! What we began to realize is that 4-H amplified what they were learning in school & sports. It made them better learners, leaders and doers.

I would encourage you and your family to think about giving 4-H a try, because it’s for everyone. It’s there for your kids in your community to become better humans and eventually, responsible adults. It’s also just a lot of fun, which is what our world needs more of right now. If you are interested or have more questions, give us a call at the Extension Office in St. John. The number is 549-3502. We have 4-H Clubs in Macksville, St. John and Stafford.

For club information in Pratt County, please call 620-672-6121 or email jdrake@ksu.edu, to join a club in Kiowa County the contact information is http://www.kiowa.ksu.edu/ or call (620) 723-2156.

K-State Research and Extension is an equal opportunity provide and employer and is committed to making its services, activities and programs available to all participants. If you have special requirements due to a physical, vision or hearing disability, accommodations can be arranged.