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.
It was dinnertime and Claudia, my colleague and friend, was seated at a table talking with the kids at 4-H On the Wild Side camp. Sitting next to Claudia, an African American girl in the fifth grade chatted away between bites of spaghetti.
“You're from Mexico, aren't you?” the girl asked Claudia.
“Well, yes I am,” Claudia responded.
The girl returned to her plate of pasta and conversation with her friends. A minute later, she again looked to Claudia, both surprised and a bit confused.
“You're from Mexico, but you speak English. How come you speak English if you're from Mexico?”
“I learned English in school when I was growing up,” Claudia replied.
“There's a girl in my class from Mexico, but she doesn't understand English at all,” the child reported. “She has a hard time in school.” And with that, the girl again directed her attention to her dinner and friends.
I share this story only because it was a poignant reminder for me of my child development classes and the theories of Jean Piaget.[i] Piaget spoke of schema, or the understanding that children create as they experience the world, both physically and socially. Children build a framework—a perception of reality—upon which they hang information. When a new experience happens, it either fits into their understanding of how the world works, or they have to modify their mindset to accommodate the information.
For the young girl at camp, there was a disconnect between her understanding—based on her past experience—of what someone from Mexico was like (non-English speaking) and her conversation with her dinner companion. The child now had new information to reframe her thinking. Her understanding of the world is deepened.
Of course our role as 4-H leaders involves helping kids to learn: about horses, or what constitutes a healthy meal, or how to lead a meeting. Young people learn social skills, decision-making skills, indeed a variety of life skills to help them navigate their future. Yet I would argue that perhaps our greatest opportunity is not teaching kids how to do things, but providing opportunities for them to expand their understanding of this very complex world in which we live.
Our organization offers windows to new experiences. New experiences challenge and excite us. Sometimes they elicit trepidation or fear as we pilot unfamiliar territory. We may worry of being seen as incompetent as we take the risk to explore ideas and expand our thinking. The same emotions hold true for the children we work with. A skilled leader is aware of this, and they acknowledge feelings and are gentle and patient in their guidance as youth build a more complete picture of their world.
What a wonderful opportunity we've been granted. In big ways and small, we help children construct understanding in their lives: understanding of people, of their world, of themselves. Thank you for all you do to nurture this growth in our kids.
[i] Piaget, J. (1953). The origin of intelligence in the child. New Fetter Lane, New York: Routledge & Kegan Paul.