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The impact of 4-H on my life
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Dear Editor,

I pledge my head to clearer thinking,
my heart to greater loyalty,
my hands to larger service,
and my health to better living,
for my club, my community, my country, and my world.

As a student, I can’t say that I fully understood what it meant to uphold the 4-H pledge the first time I recited the words. It was part of a ritual, a club, a group that was exciting and new to a sixth-grade student. Mrs. Beth Epling came to our school and promised so many things that were interesting to me — participation in fair events, learning to speak publicly, classes on topics that intrigued me, and — the ultimate hook — the chance to go away to camp. I was committed immediately. That first year I wanted in big time, and I became my school’s chapter secretary, taking notes at each meeting.

My first 4-H mini booth at the Effingham County Fair is hazy, but it had something to do with horses, a fascination of mine at the time. My booth was covered in burlap to look like a feed bag. After everyone had finished and the booths judged, I remember walking around fascinated by the booths that others had entered. So many topics, so many who did interesting things I knew nothing about, so many creative ways to present information. Even though my booth received a ribbon, I knew I could do better the next time.

Over the years I participated in more events than I can remember — a week-long cake decorating class with Mrs. Margie Sullivan where I came to realize that, even though I loved baking, I would not have a future in frosting; sessions with peers where we produced fair parade floats, fair booths and posters for project achievement speeches; progressive Christmas parties that began at one 4-H’ers home and ended clear across the county at another after a series of student-created foods and convoy car rides. 4-H was fun, and that was enough for me at the time.

As an early adult, I didn’t think much about 4-H. I worked for the YMCA with afterschool and summer camp programs, briefly held a part-time job at Bethesda as a support counselor, and then went back to school to become a teacher. I didn’t process it at the time, but 4-H had prepared me for all of those jobs. I had learned how to speak, how to work with others, how to acquire, process, apply, and share information, how to be a meaningful part of the community.

When I think of that pledge now, I realize I’ve internalized it. I value the ability to think — the process of taking in, processing and reaching a decision based on knowledge —immensely. I am loyal — to my school, my community and the organizations for which I volunteer. I believe in service. So much has been given to me. It’s an honor to give back. And in a world of highly-processed foods and people who live their lives in virtual worlds, it’s exciting to be a part of the folk who are still cooking, experiencing, and exploring this wonderful world.

Why do I volunteer with 4-H? Because I still get to take part, be involved, go to camp. I can assure you that you haven’t lived until you’ve hiked several miles through the wooded hills, climbed the tower and observed the Rock Eagle effigy mound with students seeing it for the very first time. There’s no worry like taking 100 kids swimming at the beach or traipsing into the salt marsh, and no greater satisfaction than when your realize you’ve helped them have a safe, exciting, fun learning experience. I still get to hear young people give presentations on topics that fascinate them and me. I was so impressed with one young 4-H’er that I asked him to present to all of my seventh-grade class last year on China. He did an extraordinary job, and we have plans for him to return this year. I took a group of 4-H’ers to Georgia Youth Summit in 2012. We came back and organized out first river cleanup. 4-H’ers get good things done.

I first repeated the 4-H pledge in the cafeteria in Guyton Elementary School in the fall of 1979. How many times have I said those words since in my lifetime? I’m unsure, but I get it now, and I can’t thank 4-H enough.

Christine Kirkland
4-H volunteer
Editor’s note: Oct. 5-11 is National 4-H Week