By Annika Wiebers, K-State Research and Extension news service
MANHATTAN, Kan. – The Kansas 4-H program is known for helping youth cultivate skills in leadership, citizenship and many other project disciplines, but that may not be the main reason some members stick with the program.
Enter Kathryn Tremblay, a former member and current advisor to the Kansas 4-H Youth Leadership Council.
“For me, 4-H has always been about the people I meet and the growth along the way,” she said. “I started 4-H at a young age and loved showing at the fair, but 4-H didn’t change my life until I was about 14 years old and I went to Rock Springs 4-H Camp as a junior counselor for the first time.
“I always had a hard time making friends as a kid, but those few days with my co-counselor (Sydney) changed my life forever. She wouldn’t let me be shy and immediately forced me into friendships with her friends who were also counselors, and we all became really good friends very quickly.”
The point: Many 4-H members join because of the project opportunities, but they stay and get more involved because of their friends.
“Because of the confidence I built up with this small group of 4-H friends, who felt more like family, my confidence grew and I attended other 4-H events, like the Northwest Youth Leadership Forum and Kansas Youth Leadership Forum,” Tremblay said.
In Tremblay’s case, her new friends even helped her reach her position on the Kansas 4-H Youth Leadership Council.
“Sydney was on the Kansas 4-H Youth Leadership Council, which plans these (state 4-H) events,” she said. ”I honestly never knew about the Council until Sydney told me about what she was doing. Through her encouragement, I ran for Council and was voted in by the Northwest delegates on my birthday.”
Tremblay noted that 4-H friendships eventually lead to an extensive web of connections that spill from 4-H events to every area of life.
“I loved my time on the Kansas 4-H Youth Leadership Council, and I especially liked working with our small groups at events and meeting so many different people,” Tremblay said. “I suddenly became that person who knew people at every event I attended, whether it was a school, church or 4-H event. My classmates were baffled, ‘how do you know so many people?’ they would ask me and I was happy to have so many friends to count on.”
Having gained so much from her own 4-H friendships, Tremblay paid it forward by encouraging younger members to grow in their 4-H journey.
She said: “My favorite Youth Council event was Campference, which was an event for 12-14 year-olds who were too old to attend regular camp as a camper, but too young to be a counselor. It’s also one of the most important age ranges for retaining members in 4-H.
“I met several young 4-Hers at Campference and had a great time being a mentor for them and helping them to have a great time and learn about the various opportunities available in Kansas 4-H. I encouraged several of them to run for Youth Council. All it took was for me to say ‘hey, I think you would be really great at this.’”
Tremblay said one of the seeds she planted took root in a particularly meaningful way.
“I will never forget my last time attending the Kansas Youth Leadership Forum as a member of the Youth Council,” she said. “A few of those delegates from Campference applied for Youth Council.”
She said one in particular, Greyson, asked her for help on his application.
“I had been really involved in helping him on his way to Council,” Tremblay said. “One of my good friends on Youth Council was in Greyson’s interview room and after the interviews he came up to me and said ‘You’ll never believe what Greyson said about you. When they asked him who his role model was. He said it was you.’
Tremblay described her reaction as “stunned.”
“I had never had such a wonderful compliment from someone. Greyson did go on to be elected to Youth Council, along with several others from that Campference group.”
Over her years in 4-H, Tremblay said she has built many meaningful relationships that have led to growth in her own involvement as well as encouraging the next generation of leaders. For her, 4-H is about people.
“The relationships we make with others are more important than almost anything else we do,” she said. “4-H isn’t just about ribbons or premiums. I judge at local fairs, and when a 4-Her is really successful, they almost always can tell me who has helped them to learn and grow in their project.
“That’s why people are the most important part of 4-H and life. We grow with each other and because of each other. Surround yourself with those who make you better and you, in turn, will make others better.”
More information on opportunities available through Kansas 4-H is available at local extension offices in Kansas.