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All that is right with 4-H

By Holly Martin

The cattle barn isn’t all that big.

The boy is sitting on his showbox next to his heifer. She’s not all that big, but he only weighs 50 pounds if he has a couple of rocks in the pockets of his worn jeans.

When it comes time to lead her to the wash rack, he gets pushed around. He’s doing well, but his dad is injured and he just hasn’t been able to help the boy like he wishes he could have.

So it doesn’t take long. Before the boy, or his parents, knows what is happening an older 4-Her jumps up to help him rinse. Later on, an older boy offers to help. And then two girls wonder if they can help him practice showmanship.

And so it goes. The older kids help him and he learns.

Not too far away, a little girl stands on the fence looking down at her pig.

“She was afraid of them at first,” her mom says. But now, she’s clearly comfortable. An older girl at least 10 years older leans down and says something to her. The younger girl hops down and picks up a hose and quickly cools her pig down from the stifling heat. It’s obvious the older girl has been the younger one’s guide—teaching her what to do but letting her become comfortable with what was once a scary proposition.

It happens time and time again. Not only in this barn, in this county, at this county fair, but all over the country in other barns, at other fairs.

It happens in the kitchen, when one 4-Her shows another how to smooth the buttercream just right to get the even look she wants. It happens on the shooting range, when a teenager holds a shotgun showing the younger boy how to aim quickly.

It’s yet another example of what is so right about the 4-H program. Young people take on the role of teachers to younger members. They become leaders, without even knowing it is happening. They remember being there—not knowing how to keep their pig from bolting out of the gate—and so they share what they have learned.

It’s a legacy. The responsibility of that legacy is passed down every year with no formal ceremony or fanfare. The 4-Hers who have the honor today didn’t ask for it. They simply knew that someone once helped them and that’s what you do. It’s what is right.

The 4-H program teaches service and kindness, but it isn’t done by command. That service is taught through example. Young members watch, they learn and then, all too soon, they are the ones setting the examples.

Those older 4-H members become role models. They are the “good kids” parents of young children feel happy their child can emulate. And perhaps that’s the best thing to watch: a younger child watching an older one doing what is right—not because it means they will win an award, but because they have learned kindness and leadership by example. Some day, when those older 4-Hers become parents themselves, only then will they appreciate how important their acts were.

And the mom of the boy who received all of the help with his heifer? She will be eternally grateful for the kindness of those young people. It means more than they will ever know.

Holly Martin can be reached by phone at 1-800-452-7171 ext. 1806, or by email at

Date: 7/29/2013


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