The youth are leading the way
People and businesses from all over the state of Michigan continue to adapt to the changes brought by the COVID-19 pandemic. The nationwide cooperative educational program
4-H, is no exception. The Michigan 4-H program is the largest youth development organization in Michigan, and is currently running in partnership with Michigan State University (MSU).
Lenawee County has a very strong 4-H program. With 43 clubs all over the county, it reaches over 3,000 kids each year through programs and camps. Young people learn and develop leadership skills through mentoring and hands-on projects throughout the year. Lenawee County’s 4-H program is unique among the Michigan programs in that it has a strong Teen Leadership Program. A Teen Leader is on each of the advisory boards in Lenawee County. In other counties, all board members are adults. This year, these teen leaders were faced with the unprecedented.
To protect the Lenawee County community and prevent virus spread, the Lenawee County Agricultural Society decided on May 8, 2020 to cancel the 2020 Lenawee County Fair. However, it was not all bad news for the 4-H program. The Press Release stated that, “The board will support the MSU extension office and 4-H with the costs associated with virtual exhibits and animals shows.”
Allison English, Community Club Leader of Palmyra Future Leaders, and Superintendent of the poultry barn shares her reaction to hearing the announcement, “You have that first initial shock. You’re thinking to yourself, okay where do we go from here? How do we move forward? It’s difficult to process and to keep that positive outlook. You tell yourself it’s okay, we can do this. It won’t be the same but let’s continue to do what we can, however we can.”
She continues by saying, “Our President of Palmyra Future Leaders, Kindell Covey (teen), has done an excellent job as president by putting in the effort to keep us all together to the best of our abilities. The kids have adapted well and it’s great to see them support each other and even us as adults.”
As many of us have come to learn, meeting virtually has its challenges, sometimes internet connections are weak, family members cause distractions, or technology simply doesn’t want to work, but the teens participating in our 4-H program have been adjusting quite smoothly. In fact, some of the kids believe that they are adapting to the virtual environment better than the adults.
“Yes, I can say that because we have some attendees who maybe don’t quite know how to work the devices needed for our meetings or are a bit more technically challenged. I think we’ve all learned how to be patient and listen to one another from these meetings” shares Amanda Fisher, who was elected President of the Junior Livestock Board this year. The group goes on to agree that Amanda has really led the way with the attendance of the virtual meetings, and has had the determination to make it work.
“I think we’re just a little bit more used to it. We’ve been able to help and assist others with the issues they have, and it’s been a learning experience for everyone” adds Kindell.
Along with the announcement of the cancellation, came a unique opportunity for 4-H. That being the Virtual Learning Showcase and Auctions, an online experience that allows 4-H members to show off their summer project work, including an opportunity to exhibit and market livestock.
Janelle Stewart, Extension Educator at the MSU Extension, voices her thoughts on going virtual saying, “We’re still not exactly sure what it will look like, but we know it’s happening. It’s a learning experience for everyone.”
The kids had a lot of input and were instrumental in the decision making of what that was going to look like and how it would run. All rules had to be reviewed and then adjusted so that each group and category could participate virtually. Janelle goes on to say, “ In some cases the adults dropped the ball and I can honestly say that the kids picked it up with determination and ran with it. They’re challenging us as adults to move with them. They’ve outshined us adults during all of this.”
Kindell, who is also on the All-Around Equestrians and Lenawee Horse and Pony Board, describes her thought process of having a Virtual Showcase this year, “We definitely had to adapt and determine which things to visualize that pertain to the judging methods of the show.”
President of the Small Animal Board, Wyatt Cole, adds, “For Poultry we have the Meat Birds which is hard to do through a video because you have to feel it. So, it was decided we would do a Danish judging system.” In this system, the judges do not judge one person's work by comparing it to another's. The purpose of using this system is to give every 4-H member the recognition deserved for the work that was done and to give them feedback on what they have done well and how they could improve.
Our local 4-H show and auction weren’t the only things that were affected by the pandemic. Sadly, agriculture businesses across the nation have been impacted. Many of the markets responsible for the processing of the meat have had to close, causing a shortage of appointments for those in need.
Janelle weighs in on this explaining, “Some of the larger markets aren’t operating and so the smaller ones are having to take on the work. We are fortunate that in the county we could get an appointment for the animals that participate in the virtual fair.” Lenawee County 4-H will have some options available this year if you choose to purchase an animal at the auction.
This year has proven to be a challenge for populations across the world, but the teens and kids right here in Lenawee County have chosen to rise to the occasion, face their challenges head on, and have shown determination in leading others ahead.
“I’ve learned how to adjust and adapt to a stressful environment,” shares Amanda “When you have this terrible thing happening, people can become tense and everyone wants their opinion heard. It’s important to listen and communicate through that.”
Wyatt adds “I learned how to adapt and change to a continuously changing environment. 4-H has never had to do virtual before, but we were able to accept the situation, change our mindset and say now is the time to adjust and do it.”
“I’ve usually tended to be a shy person. 4-H has allowed me to grow into a more confident leader.” Kindell goes on further to explain, “Being president has allowed me to work with teaching the younger kids and take initiative with starting important conversations.”
Janelle Stewart couldn’t be any prouder of the teens. “When we couldn’t do some of our educational things, Wyatt and his family took it upon themselves to provide that to our kids so we could continue the education,” she continues sharing, “We were able to sit in on a Horse 101 class that Kindell led and we were so impressed with the knowledge that she shared. She has been gifted with teaching qualities and it’s been great during this time, and Amanda’s leadership style has shown tremendously. She is moving a group of people forward that truly were hesitant to do so, and I give her all the credit for taking that on.”
Michigan 4-H explains that 4-H is growing current and future leaders: growing kids who are confident and strong, curious enough to question and capable enough to find the answers; growing youth who stick to a job until the job gets done and know how to work with others, as well as lead. And that’s exactly what we’re seeing right here in Lenawee County.
The funding for 4-H program in Lenawee County comes predominately from the county government. This is supplemented by state and federal funding, but most of the 4-H funding is received directly from Lenawee County. It is a non-mandated service. Without that funding, the 4-H program would not be able to operate within our county as it does today.
This investment into our community is building Lenawee’s future. During these trying times, these teenage leaders are taking the skills that they’ve learned through 4H, adapting quickly, and leading our program. They’ve embraced this as an opportunity for growth, and with these kids leading the way, our tomorrow looks bright.