Pledging head, heart, hands and health may seem like a heavy load to handle. But without empowering the whole self, a person cannot expect to reach one’s full potential.
These are the four leaflets of the 4-H clover, and local mentors and project leaders are, in essence, the stem that supports the clover, helping it to grow from cloverbud into a flower of fortune.
Oct. 5-11 is National 4-H week. Mentors are the glue that holds the whole project together. They complete the 4-H vision of “a world in which youth and adults learn, grow and work together as catalysts for positive change.”
“The most significant experiences that I have had as a 4-H leader were not the big things like winning the purple ribbon at state,” said Gloria Bergner. “They were the little things, like witnessing the willingness of other adults in this community who voluntarily mentor our youth. And being humbled by the generosity of businesses and community members who always come through for the kids. These things are huge to my family and me.”
Bergner has been an integral part of the local 4-H organization for a long time, as a Challengers club leader, child development program leader, judge, mentor, parent and overall supporter. She and her husband Ohlee have raised their four children through 4-H and are glad they got involved early on.
4-H was unfamiliar territory for Bergner, but she decided to enroll her oldest son Clifton, who is now 33, for a trial year to see if it was something their family would find valuable.
“I agreed to take the leap, and here we are 28 years later, still 4-H parents,” Bergner said. “I guess you can see that we have never looked back. It has been a valuable experience for my children and for me!”
Working with 4-H meant she got to learn right alongside her children, who dabbled in many different projects. She also feels privileged to have witnessed significant measurable growth among the program’s youth from year to year, as she described numerous alumni and what they have become in their lives and careers.
“I am richer because I got to be a 4-H parent and leader. I got to work with these kids. I got to watch these members develop the confidence and skills to mature into people who really do ‘Make the Best Better.’ They were role models for my children.”
Other project leaders were 4-H members when they were younger. The understanding of having been mentored in the program has instilled in them a helping heart, leading them to become mentors themselves.
Joan Bogan was a home economics 4-H leader in Adams County before coming to Phillips County, where she has been a volunteer for seven years. She started volunteering to allow others the same chance she had in her 4-H youth career.
“I loved the opportunities it gave me as a kid,” Bogan said. “I’ve never come across another place where kids and families can be rewarded like in 4-H.”
Bogan spoke of her passions for teaching and sewing and how it is very rejuvenating and thrilling to watch how kids grow through the years, keeping their focus on developing their skills and not on winning a prize.
“It’s how they use what they’ve learned after 4-H that impresses me, as they pursue their skills and the many other possibilities out there.”
Bogan pointed out that being a mentor is a lot of work, but it is greatly rewarding. And there is a need for more volunteers in the local 4-H program.
Local veterinarian Darrell Tomky has worked with horses and other livestock for many years and has now been a 4-H project leader in the horse category for two years.
Tomky described how he was at a 4-H horse show and saw a few aspects that could use some assistance.
“I thought to myself, ‘I would like to help,’” Tomky said.
The ability to help multiple youth members develop their passions and teach important life lessons that will help them to be a better person in any future capacity was a significant draw for Tomky to become a 4-H leader. It is also right in line with the 4-H mission to “empower youth to reach their full potential, working and learning in partnership with caring adults.”
Tomky talked of his experiences with Kaitlyn Kent, a 4-H member who trains with and shows his horses.
“She truly has a natural God-given gift that some people don’t have with animals,” Tomky said. “I have a measure of it, but not like she does.”
Darrell Tomky and Kaitlyn Kent greet the crowd as they ride two of Tomky’s horses through the fair parade in 2012. Tomky has been a 4-H mentor to Kent and has helped her pursue her love of working with horses.
He said Kent plans to make a career of working with horses. Kent has worked with Tomky and his wife Debbie and Denise Smith and her daughter Janna.
“I really appreciate all the help and the advice that they give me,” said Kent, speaking of her mentors. “They have made my dreams of being in 4-H and being very successful happen through the program.”
Tomky also said he is happy to help lead Kent and other 4-H youth into lives where they’ll enjoy what they love.
“I can help them with the horses’ discipline, and I can help with the kids’ discipline.”
Ron and Carrie Anderson are also mentors who have to stress the importance of discipline in their 4-H groups. Ron has been a project leader in the .22 caliber rifle category for many years, and Carrie is a rabbit leader.
“Learning to shoot isn’t quick and easy,” Ron said. “It takes lots of practice and is learned by repetition.”
Patience is highly important, for both the kids and the leaders, according to Ron.
Raising rabbits requires lots of discipline as well, and Carrie Anderson said she has had lots of fun watching kids learn what they have to do when they take rabbits and care for them.
She described working with kids as they grew from day one to seeing judges have trouble deciding who had done the best work.
“4-H really lives up to the motto, ‘Making the best better,’” Carrie said. “The kids’ growth potential and know-ledge is astounding. It is one of the best programs kids can be a part of.”
The development of connectedness in the community was something all of the mentors agreed upon.
“We get such a wide variety of thoughts and attitudes,” Carrie said. “The camaraderie among parents and kids as we watch projects we’ve planned out come together is really touching.”
4-H mentors provide self-less, loving guidance, and the life lessons shared through 4-H are things that stick in the forefront of members’ memories throughout their lives. The experiences go far beyond winning and losing in each respective category.
“We got to watch many kids as they grew into calm, cool and collected public speakers, role models and leaders in our club, our community and beyond,” Bergner said. “When my family reminisces about 4-H, our conversation almost always involves the social and community things we participated in and rarely involves what ribbons were won.”
Holyoke Enterprise October 2, 2014