By Clint Andersen
Another successful Sheridan County Fair and Rodeo has come and gone. But what makes a fair a “success”? In the two months since the fair ended, I have spent a lot of time thinking about that question. I think the fair’s success can be defined in many different ways, but I believe the best measure is the number of youth who participate by demonstrating what they have learned through exhibits and competition.
Walking through the exhibit halls and livestock barns this year, I was struck by how much open space there was. Not many years ago, Sheridan County was second only to Scottsbluff County in 4-H enrollment in the panhandle. Today, both Scottsbluff and Box Butte Counties have more members and Dawes County has pulled into a tie with us for third. This is a disturbing trend for a county with such a strong tradition of active 4-Hers.
So why has there been a drop in participation here? Certainly, the population has declined somewhat, but there is still an abundance of young people in the area. Competition from sports and other activities have a definite impact as kids are pulled in many different directions. However, these factors are the same for the other counties as well. The kids are here, we’re just not reaching them.
What many people don’t realize is that 4-H is a year-round activity and even though we just finished with the county fair in July, the new 4-H year is already beginning. It’s easy to think of 4-H as just a summer activity when there is so much that can be done in the winter. Sewing and quilting, building model rockets or trying out a new recipe are all things that are great on a cold winter weekend.
How do we get more youth involved? As a former 4-Her, I remember the exhibit halls and livestock barns full to overflowing. I know that I’m not the only 4-H alum who remembers judging contests, camps, and water fights. I see former 4-H members every day that I laughed, learned and competed with. There is no limit to the number of great memories and life lessons that 4-H gave us. But there are so many youngsters in our communities that could benefit from 4-H, yet they don’t because they don’t have a mentor to help them get started. These kids just need someone to give them a nudge in the right direction.
Part of the 4-H creed is “I pledge my hands to greater service...” It is our duty as former 4-Hers to live up to that creed that we recited so many times and make the effort to help children benefit from a program that gave us so much. It only takes an hour or two to teach a skill or lend a hand. There are so many things that you can do to make a difference by sharing your knowledge, skills, and resources with a child. Teach them to sew, decorate a cake, take great pictures, fix an engine, build a robot, grow a garden, or provide a place for them to keep a market animal for the summer.
I know what you’re thinking: “but I’m so busy, already!” We all have commitments and obligations that take up our valuable time, but there are few things more rewarding than helping a youngster accomplish something that they otherwise couldn’t have, or learn a new skill because you gave some of your time to them. Time is valuable, so why not invest it in something that will pay dividends for the entire community?
You don’t have to be a former 4-Her to share your skills and talents. Contact a 4-H leader or the county Extension Office to find out how to become a part of this enjoyable and rewarding organization.
Here is my challenge to the former 4-Hers of Sheridan County: Let’s fill the exhibit building again. Completely. To overflowing. If each former 4-Her in Sheridan County mentored just one child, the number of kids impacted would be tremendous. It will take time and effort, but the rewards are more than worth it. It is an incredible feeling to see a child demonstrate a skill that they learned from you.
National 4-H Week is October 7-13. Contact your local 4-H club or the Sheridan County Extension Office to find out how you can help.
Get involved. Be a volunteer. Make a difference.
By Clint Andersen