4-H leaders: Heavy on the heart

My husband and I were 4-H organizational leaders for quite a few years. That meant we were the ones who begged, cajoled or bribed other parents, friends and neighbors into sharing their expertise with the kids as project leaders.

Soon after we began this journey a wise county agent said, “Remember, we’re not raising animals, really. We’re raising kids. The four H’s: head, heart, hands and health must never be forgotten, especially in the heat of competition.”

My husband could handle — or knew someone who could handle — most of the animal projects. It was a large club, so the projects included most everything from rabbits to sheep, pigs and steers.

I got stuck with projects like crochet, baking and gardening. My Suzie Homemaker skills are marginal at best, so I turned the kitchen over to my daughters as soon as they expressed any interest at all.

That’s where the 4-H Junior Leadership program comes in. Older members can be junior leaders in their areas of interest. It’s great. You can magnanimously turn it over to them, and not have to admit you have no idea how to do it. I took advantage of that many times.

If a 4-Her signed up for a project and we couldn’t find a leader or junior leader, guess who got the pleasure? That’s how I learned to crochet at an old age. The night before each project meeting I’d get out the kids’ book and practice. Then at the meeting I’d be miss-know-it-all. I think they were onto me, but they were good kids and let me by.

Several general skills are necessary to be a successful 4-H leader.

• Be barf-proof.
When a cake turns out looking like mushy mucous, calmly taste it and go over the recipe with the kid so you can help figure out what went wrong. Never allow the word “yuck” out of your mouth, unless the young cook says it first. Then be sure and smile when you say it.
When somebody throws up (it will happen) don’t throw up on top of it during the cleanup. Of course, we mothers all know about that already.

• Be (or find) a good party planner. The old saying “all work and no play” definitely applies here.
Usually, the kids enjoy parties best when they, themselves, are given responsibility for most of the planning. And isn’t letting them learn to take charge a major goal? After all, education’s essence is learning to think for oneself.

• Be backup transportation.
This includes meetings, pig, lamb, and steer sales, prospect shows, fairs. It’s really fun, especially the project animal sales, even though kids sometimes get the hang of bidding at auction too “good” for their own good.