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”
That is the pledge that I took every Tuesday night in the basement of a small community church, right after saying the Pledge of Allegiance. Those are the words of the 4-H Pledge and saying them now to myself while I type this up means a whole heck of a lot more to me, than when I said them all those years ago.
It’s been twenty years now since I first joined 4-H, with the Broadkill Kool Kats gathered in that little church in Milton, Delaware. It’s been ten years since I’ve been active in any 4-H events at all. But I can still remember that pledge, and holding my fingers to my head, heart, outstretched in front of me, and then to my sides every week.
When I first joined 4-H, it was mostly because my parents wanted to get me into something extra curricular, but I refused to join the Girl Scouts. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with being a Brownie or a Girl Scout. But for me, there was one major flaw. No boys. I had grown up surrounded by guys, and in that turn I found them easier to befriend, the thought of being in a group with a bunch of girls mortified me. In some ways, it still does.
I didn’t appreciate back then, the good that 4-H did for me. Even when I was leaving the organization upon turning eighteen, I still had not quite grasped just how important it all had been in shaping who I am today. In giving me the outlook on life that I have currently.
Everything started on a personal level, with project books every year. I hardly ever finished mine, but that didn’t mean that they weren’t useful. Everything from animal care to geneaology was offered and I had friends who raised chickens, sheep, and pigs, while I worked on sewing projects and making bread. As a whole for the County we put on Horse shows for local equestrian enthusiasts and students, we cleaned up beaches of trash and filth, we had nights of food tastings and competitions, including my favourite event where each participant chose a country and made a traditional food from that nation. Everything was geared towards helping children to learn. To become better adults in their later years.
And what happens during that awkward transition time, when you change from being a child to being an adolescent? That horribly painful time when your body doesn’t work right, everything is changing and nobody is nice to anybody else? In 4-H, you become a Junior Leader, and you get responsibilities. While other places are unsure of how to treat adolescents who are trying to become young adults, 4-H is there with the answer, treat them like young adults.
We were given classes on inclusion, very basic psychology, life saving measures including basic first aid and CPR certification. And we were entrusted with the care and oversight of other children. We became camp counsellors, the people that you drop your kids off to in the morning and pick up in the afternoon in the middle of summer. As Junior Leaders, we were given the trust that we could handle these other kids, and the confidence in ourselves to make the program on our own. There was adult supervision, always, but only for emergencies. Everything else was handled by the Junior Leaders.
And we handled it just fine. With responsibility comes Maturity, and with maturity comes something else. Some other attribute that is hard to place, but is nonetheless knowable to others. Being in 4-H, while I didn’t realize it back then, and it has taken me several years to open my eyes on it now, has not only made me who I am today, but has enabled me to make it to today.
I am getting ready to turn thirty years old. I’ve hit a lot of bumps in my adult life, but I’ve always seemed to bounce back from them, somehow. Currently, I am living in New Zealand and starting my life over again. I have found myself repeatedly typing the same words while looking and applying for a job down here. I want to have a positive impact on my community.
I no longer want a job just for myself or for the money. I want a career that will mean something to somebody else. A position that will help myself move forward, of course, but will also serve the greater good, the better purpose. And up until recently, it just made sense, that was how I was. But then a friend’s son started getting bullied at school and she was looking for something to help him with his self esteem. I immediately suggested signing him up for 4-H. And I made a very bold statement in doing so, I quite honestly told her that 4-H had saved my life.
It seemed so out of the blue, and yet, it was true. I owe my life to 4-H, both the organization, my County, and my Club. My fellow members, my Leaders and Junior Leaders, all of them helped to make sure that I not only survived the living hell that was adolescence, but also have helped to shape me into the adult that I have become.
Without the sense of community, trust, and leadership skills that I learned and picked up during my time with 4-H, I am not certain how I would have made it this far, and I know that I will rely on those skills, those teaching moments to move myself, my community, my country (both of them), and my world further to make them stronger, safer, happier places.
I don’t owe everything of who I am now to this Organization, but I owe enough of myself to say thank you. And to eagerly, heartily, and readily recommend to anybody with children that 4-H is one of the best options out there to help your child through a difficult time. They will find friendships, they will find laughter, and they will come away from it all knowing that they can make the world a better place.
Broadkill Kool Kats, Sussex County 4-H, Delaware, USA