Fifteen years ago, I married into a 4-H family. Growing up, I was never involved in 4-H. To be honest, I didn’t even know what the organization really was until this past year.
These days I find myself dipping my toes in the water with our daughter, Alena, who couldn’t be more excited to be a part of something her grandparents, dad, aunt and cousins were all a part of. This entire first year, I have often joked with her leader that I, too, am a Cloverbud.
During the fair, we spent an entire day just exploring all the opportunities available to her and talked a lot about her dreams. It was amazing to hear her plans for her goat herd and aspiration to become a veterinarian.
She started working on her plan to grow her herd and expand her knowledge on them. Mom and Dad might have helped her get her first goat but where she takes them from here is all her. She is chomping at the bit to be old enough to show them at the fair but, in the meantime, she’s working on her foundation. She is already learning to reach out and ask others for help, to shoot for the stars and to work hard for the things she wants to accomplish.
I’ve been able to witness her confidence grow with each completed project. Watching her morph from a shy scared child into a confident, outgoing six-year-old right before my eyes is a memory I will carry with me always. I can’t help but think if all of this happened through one year of 4-H, what will happen over the next thirteen years she can be a member? She may have only received a participation ribbon for her projects but in the scheme of life – she earned so much more.
In her first year of 4-H, my daughter has learned what I consider the most powerful life lesson: an inbound appreciation for her community. To make projects work, it took our entire village. She painted her barn picture with my mom, cross-stitched with my mother-in-law, wrote a story with my sister-in-law, set up the 4-H booth with one cousin and walked her Little Britches calf with another.
She might not realize it now, but 4-H is instilling the importance of community, giving back and what happens when people work together to complete a common task. She is learning a skill that was instilled in her aunt and dad years ago by their parents when they decided to step up and lead. She is seeing her family engaged in a community, witnessing how her dad might have gotten his start in 4-H but how he ultimately went on to be active in FFA and now Farm Bureau. Every family has a story of how or why they chose to do something and I love ours.
Alena now represents the third generation in our family to be a part of 4-H, she will be the fourth generation to be a part of Farm Bureau and we pray she will one day be able to be the sixth generation to take over the farm.
If you are on the fence about enrolling your child in 4-H, I encourage you to do it. We all have full plates but I promise you the time you put in is going to compound the rewards. Life’s best lessons don’t happen inside four walls; they happen in barn alleys, long talks with livestock, out in the middle of a pasture or in Grandma’s kitchen. They also happen when you work beside a child, watching them grow, guiding them and helping them build a community that will support them.
Alena and I might be a pair Cloverbuds, but in just a short amount of time, 4-H has already given us so much more than we ever imagined.
Ashleigh Calaway serves as the District 8 Coordinator for Wisconsin Farm Bureau. Ashleigh and her husband, along with her husband’s family, raise beef cattle in northern Wisconsin. They are also proud parents to their daughter.
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