Many of you know that camp was, and still is, a passion for me. Not only was it where I learned to love the wilderness, I also discovered a lot about myself during those summers in the mountains. It was at camp that I decided that I wanted to work with kids, and lessons from those early experiences still resonate. Here's an example.
It must have been my second or third summer on staff (I was probably 20). I was excited about seeing my campers and the upcoming session. In my head I had planned a terrific week with tons of activities I knew they'd love: a hike up the Buttes, baking cookies in a reflector oven over the campfire, sunrise canoeing on the lake. I had dutifully recorded my plan on my Session at a Glance, every moment of the week scheduled. But when I shared my session plan with the camp director, Alicia, her comment surprised me.
“You know,” she said, “you shouldn't completely fill out your session plan before your kids get here.” Wait…wasn't that what I was asked to do? Plan the program? Make the magic happen?
“Really, you should give space and opportunity for their ideas,” Alicia continued. “Find out what they want to do with their week.”
I heard her comments, but didn't fully understand. Or maybe it wasn't that I didn't understand, but that I wanted to believe that I knew what would be best for a great week at camp. Planning ahead took all the guess-work out of daily schedules. Plus, how would campers know what would be the most fun if they weren't familiar with some new activities I wanted to try?
Listening to young people and making space for their ideas is one of many teachings that I've come to appreciate more with time. It seems self-evident that kids should have choice and input into their activities, especially in out-of-school time. My camp director knew a deeper truth that I didn't appreciate back then: that listening to young people and embracing their ideas nurtures feelings of importance and a sense of empowerment. Such opportunities are rare for kids.
There are many reasons the ideas of youth aren't heard. Sometime we're too busy or it's inconvenient. Sometime we feel the responsibility to get the plan done. It's easier to do it ourselves, or we think we know best. And sometimes kids are so use to adults running the show, they're hesitant to share what they're thinking.
4-H can and should be a place where young people are heard, where their ideas are valued, and where they have a sense of control in their club and projects. The environment we create should help kids find their voice, and we do that by listening.
It's still hard for me to step back and allow youth to step up when I think I have the answers. It's something I continually work on.
I think Alicia would be pleased to know that.
- Author: Marianne Bird
Discovering your passion. Taking responsibility. Being part of a team. A special bond with an adult who cares. Learning about yourself. Knowing you're really good at something. Showing at Fair and making forever friends. The first time sleeping under the stars. 4-H is all these things. Those of us who care about this program usually have a defining relationship or experience within 4-H that we treasure.
Among the many life-changing things our organization does, 4-H instills the value of helping others. By sharing their animals with school kids or at nursing homes, serving as a camp counselor for younger campers, or adopting a family during the holidays, 4-H youth learn the importance of generosity. Their experiences in caring for others is self-reinforcing as they find their own lives enriched. Indeed, they learn there is a gift in giving.
Soon many of you will receive an invitation from the California 4-H Foundation to support the program we love. It comes this time of year—with so many other requests for your generosity—and we hope you'll consider a gift to our local 4-H program. For so many of us, 4-H has been a conduit to growth, friendship, and service that truly makes a difference in our lives and the lives of others.
Should you choose to support Sacramento County 4-H with a financial contribution, every penny given through the California 4-H Foundation will come directly back to us. Simply write in Sacramento County as where you'd like your gift designated.
Should you choose to give online on Giving Tuesday (December 1), the California 4-H Foundation will match your gift. If you give $100, Sacramento 4-H receives $200! But you'll need to stay up late on Monday to be an early-giver Tuesday morning at the Foundation matches the first $25,000 in gifts.
Your generosity supports youth attending leadership conferences, provides assistance for families needing help with enrollment fees, even pays for the copy machine our volunteers use in the office. Your gift is especially important this year as COVID-19 means more families face economic hardships and our public funding will undoubtedly be reduced.
4-H volunteers understand the gift of giving. I see evidence of that daily. It's what motivates us to power through with program during a time when face-to-face gatherings are limited. It's what inspires us to find ways to connect with kids when they need connection the most. And it comes back to us in the satisfaction of seeing the children we guide explore their world, master tasks, grow in confidence, and form unique friendships with their peers and with us.
Thank you for believing in 4-H. You give a lot to the program you love. I hope you will join with me to give just a bit more this year-end.
I value each of you and the gift you are to our program.
It's been almost four months since the coronavirus transformed our communities and created changes that, just last February, we would never have dreamed possible. The shutting down and now gradual re-opening of where we work, shop, live and play has affected all of us in different ways. Some have lost jobs. Others work from home amidst supervising children and schoolwork. As someone who lives by herself, I've felt tremendous loneliness and loss as I've missed my family and had to let go of the weekends I would have been at camp leading 4-H programs.
While 4-H On the Wild Side didn't happen at Camp Gold Hollow this spring, it did take place in a virtual format. Seven teens and two adult volunteers created and delivered an environmental education lesson for 4th grade classes in Elk Grove. It was in working with this dedicated group, and interacting with the elementary school students and their teachers, that I realized how the epidemic has impacted our youth. Never, in all my years in the field, have I worked with teenagers so available and eager to meet, to plan, to deliver. Never have classroom teachers been so eager to include 4-H programming in their day. And never have I been so convinced of how much 4-H is needed.
What is it our kids need at this point in time? They need to feel empowered to affect their own lives and their community. They need to feel accomplished and a sense of mastery, to see their skills grow. They need connection with their peers, to work with others and feel comradery. And now, more than ever, our youth need trusted adults to coach, to listen, to support, to care. They need you.
In the coming weeks we'll be releasing protocols for safe, in person 4-H meetings. For those of you who will choose to meet with project members in person, the guidelines are straight forward and fairly easy to implement in many project areas. For those of you who are parents and deciding if your child will attend in person project meetings, I would invite you to review the protocols and talk with those adults who will lead the project to better understand their plan.
If a virtual format works for your project, we'll support that, too. We plan to offer training on making online learning engaging and experiential, key components to any quality 4-H program. I learned first-hand that a virtual experience can be very meaningful as one of our 4-H On the Wild Side teen teachers shared. “Having this online project this year helped me stay productive with these shifts in life, and it is going to do so much to engage the students in their classrooms,” she wrote in an email. “I will continuously say thank you for these past three years in being a part of this family.”
Kids seek meaningful experiences, especially now, and it's what we do so well. So thank you for your willingness, the creative energy and extra time you give to make things work for our youth. Jen, Beryl and I are here to support you in whatever you need to move forward. We appreciate you very, very much.
[In case you missed it on Big Dig Day! Just our way to say Thanks...https://youtu.be/2mJlHze50wc]
4-H Youth Development Advisor
We give to things we care about. Think about where you spend your time and your energy, both limited resources. I suspect most of us dedicate ourselves to family, like our children or spouse (or for me, my aging mom), and others we care about deeply. Often we are devoted to our work, not because it's a paycheck, but because we care about what we do, the people we serve, or the mission we've embraced through our careers.
I see evidence of how the 4-H community cares about our organization. It's revealed in the club leader who stretches himself to make every meeting special; the horse leaders who step forward to build a stronger county program; or the faithful team that has purchased and prepared food at camp for 15 years. We give our time and energy because we believe in 4-H and the good things it builds in kids, in adults, and in our community. We give because we care.
While I'm grateful for the time and energy so many give to our organization, I want to thank a very important group of givers: the parents, volunteers, alumni and staff who support our work financially.
There are three ways you can easily give a gift to Sacramento 4-H:
- Giving Tuesday is a 24-hour giving opportunity on November 28, the Tuesday after Thanksgiving. The California 4-H Foundation will match gifts dollar for dollar up to $20,000, so donate early to double your gift! It's easy to make a give...just click here. Be sure to specify Sacramento County, and every penny will come directly to our 4-H Council.
- The United Way and State Employees Giving campaigns allow one-time gifts or payroll deductions through the work place. Simply write Sacramento County 4-H on your form and include our agency number (4155).
- The Big Day of Giving on Thursday, May 3, is a region-wide, on-line giving campaign which features Sacramento County 4-H. You can check out our profile at https://www.bigdayofgiving.org/4HSacramento. More information to come.
Through your generosity, last year Sacramento County 4-H received $11,500 through these efforts. That's the majority of our council budget.
I hope you will join me in making a donation on Giving Tuesday. Thank you for showing you care about 4-H and our kids in so many ways. For all you give, we are grateful.
Sometimes a lesson really hits home.
This happened for me recently at a family camp I direct over the Memorial Day holiday. A group of my childhood camp friends and I have organized the gathering for five years. It began as a place for old camp buddies to gather with each other and their kin, but the demographics have changed over time to include new families with younger children.
I was especially excited for the Sunday evening program: A pajama party that included Bingo. We had done a similar program three years earlier—“Boxer Bingo” we called it, where winners selected their prize from a variety of colorful homemade boxer shorts strung across the lodge. It was a hit! And this year's prizes were even better: 26 flannel pillowcases, each made from a variety of patterned, fanciful fabrics. I even wanted to play to win!
The Bingo game progressed with as much order as could be expected with 100 people, half of them children, in the tiny lodge. It was noisy and difficult to hear as we got to the last pillowcase. Three people yelled, “Bingo!” and were cleared as winners. Graciously, the two adults who won allowed the nine year-old boy to take the final prize.
Then, something I didn't expect happened: there were tears. At least three children, all between the ages of four and six, had melt-downs as they left the lodge without a pillowcase. Encouraged by his mom, the boy who won the final prize generously gave it to a younger girl crying at their table. The parents of the children tried to explain that not everyone could take a prize home, but to no avail. The youngsters just didn't understand. I felt horrible.
My background is in youth development, and at every 4-H volunteer orientation I talk about 4-H policy concerning competition and our youngest 4-H members. I know competition is not developmentally appropriate for young children. Yet never has this truth been so apparent as that Sunday evening when a group of tired children couldn't grasp why they didn't have a prize. It wasn't that they were just disappointed; they didn't have the ability to grasp how Bingo was played or why they didn't receive a pillowcase.
Another successful County Fair has just ended. Even in this competitive learning environment of show rings and ribbons, neither the sheep nor the swine judges were eager to place the youngsters in Pee-Wee Showmanship this year. (Pee Wee Showmanship is not sanctioned under 4-H policy and 4-H Primary members under the age of 9 are not permitted to participate.) I'm sure the judges' intuition told them that singling out “winners” served no purpose. Indeed, if 4-H is about helping children grow and flourish, what is value of having youth participate in something they cannot comprehend? Lessons learned—especially hard lessons—need to be within the scope of understanding.
I never envisioned that this year's Bingo game would end differently (and more painfully) than Boxer Bingo, but I understand that the different outcome had everything to do with the audience. Lesson learned. And when I speak about age-appropriate programming at Volunteer Orientation, you can bet it will be with new conviction.