By Jeff Caldwell

When asked, most people who have participated in 4-H will tell you how well they have been served by the experience gained by participation in the program's projects and their accomplishments.

But if you ask a member of the Lynch family, Hooker, OK, this answer will be much more involved.

That is because, for John and Misty Lynch and their three children, daughter Tawny, 11, and sons Hunter, 7, and Lakon, 2, 4-H represents something greater than an extra-curricular activity. For them, it is almost a way of life.

John and Misty, neither of whom had the opportunity to be involved in 4-H in their youth, are two of the many parents of 4-Hers who work hard to ensure the program remains strong for the more than 45 members of the Loyal Doers 4-H club, in Texas County, OK. Being in a primarily rural area, Misty says, makes it easier for parents like themselves to get involved with their children's activities.

"There is really good parental involvement in our club. There is never a kid who does not get to go because the parents cannot make it," Misty says. "Everyone pulls together. There is no 'drop them off and leave' mindset in the parents."

John, who admits his "heart is in it probably a little more than average," says he and Misty have had to do very little to encourage the involvement of their daughter, who, in addition to showing steers and lambs, participates in livestock judging, fundraising, public speaking and record keeping. Instead, her motivation comes from her love of animals and her innate feeling of responsibility.

"She has a natural talent with all animals," he says. "It has not been a forced issue at all. We never have to get on her to get her feeding or chores done."

Since she was 9, the earliest age at which young people can be members, Tawny has become involved with many projects in 4-H. While her club takes part in many community service projects, John, who, along with Misty, has raised stocker cattle since 1998, says his daughter's main interest has been livestock.

"She loves animals, and has a great talent there," he says.

The ability to take advantage of the opportunities she has through in 4-H is something Misty says has changed her daughter for the better in the short time she has been involved in the program.

"We are very proud of her," Misty says of her daughter, who is the treasurer for Hooker's Loyal Doers 4-H club, one of the largest in the area. "She is more independent now than she would be, had she not gotten into 4-H."

"I think being in 4-H, being an officer and having those opportunities makes you more responsible," Tawny says. "If you do not do it, then you feel bad, and you do it right next time."

One way many 4-Hers, like Tawny, have been able to raise livestock for the program is through the Farm Service Agency Youth Loan Program. Allowing rural youths to establish an income-producing project, like 4-H livestock, the program, in addition to providing loans for start-up costs, supervises participants throughout the process. John, farm loan officer for the Hugoton, KS, FSA office says this helps youths develop financial organization skills through real experience.

"A youth loan can take a lot of the financial burden off the parents and, at the same time, give a young person a positive learning experience," he says. "It is something that teaches kids the basics, and how important money management is. The earlier you start, the better."

As a result, the program, which holds participants accountable for the full amount of each loan, teaches real-life skills young people can carry into their adult lives.

"Through the youth loan program, a young person can develop skills like planning, budgeting, record-keeping and marketing--skills that any farmer or rancher needs for success in agriculture," John, who often helps other families with 4-H livestock projects, says.

In the FSA Youth Loan Program, participants are required to fill out the same types of paperwork required by farmers and ranchers when applying for loans. According to FSA, loan recipients must be U.S. citizens between the ages of 10 and 20. In additions, the young people must live in a town with fewer than 10,000 residents and be unable to obtain financial assistance from any other lender. Finally, the project utilizing loan funds, repayment of which are tailored to each individual project, must be used to "conduct a modest income-producing project in a supervised program of work," FSA says.

While the youth loans are primarily used for educational purposes, John says the ramifications of success or failure in the program do carry lasting effects.

"It is an educational tool, but it is the real deal. We have a couple of kids who didn't do well, and it will affect those kids' ability to borrow money later on," John says. "But it is my favorite loan to work on. If these kids fail at it, it is not the end of the world. It will be a learning experience at that level."

Through obtaining loans to finance her 4-H livestock projects, Tawny, who got her first loan at age 10, has learned a great deal about money management. In addition to acting as her club's treasurer, she has begun to understand the value of savings and record keeping much better than most youths her age. This financial independence and understanding, Misty says, can be directly attributed to her daughter's active approach and yearning to excel in her 4-H work.

"Now, things like car payments make sense to her. She has a checking account now, and that is because she understands money management better from 4-H," Misty says of her daughter, who, even before she qualified for a loan, was asking her parents to do it for her. "She really stops and thinks, even if she has five dollars, 'well, I'll keep $2.50 of this and put $2.50 in my checking account.'"

While she continues to focus on her livestock as an important part of her 4-H participation, Misty says Tawny, who says she wants to show steers as long as she can, hopes to further develop as a producer. After having recently sold her first heifer at the local sale barn, Misty says her daughter is well on her way.

"She plans to have her own herd of cows by the time she graduates from high school," Misty says. "That has been one of our intentions--for her to have her own animals."

What would Tawny be doing if she was not involved in 4-H?

"I would probably be sitting around, watching more TV. I would be more like the kids who do not do much," she says. "4-H gives kids something they can do and they like if they are not good at athletics, which I am at some, but not at others."

Misty says even though some of Tawny's peers tease her for being so involved in the program, her daughter, who benefits scholastically from 4-H, often finds herself in the coveted position.

"She has friends who envy her and who wish they could be in 4-H, but the parents are not into it and are not willing to try it," Misty says. "She has a couple of friends who, every time they are with her, they want to go to the farm and feed the calves with us."

The Lynch family involvement does not end with John, Misty and Tawny, whose younger brother, Lakon, is always quick to offer his service, Misty says.

"He is already combing and working on the steer. He already knows about it," she says. "He is always right there in the middle of it."

Lakon is more than willing to sum up his involvement in his older sister's 4-H projects.

"I am a big helper," the two-year-old says.

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