Members of the Mission Hill Hillers 4-H club range in age from 8-15 years old, yet they consider each other good friends. It is just one advantage to being in a 4-H group, according to their group leader LeeAnn Freng. Pictured (front to back) are Karlie Freng, Payton Vellek, Katie Freng, Lindsay Christensen, Morgan Nielson and Tess Hacecky.
Family. A one-word answer to the question, What is 4-H?
In the Gayville, Volin and Mission Hill area, there are currently three active 4-H groups: the Mission Hill Hillers, the Gayville Achievers and the Clovers. In all, approximately 40 members from the three small communities are actively involved in the program.
Our group is more than 50 years old. If I am not mistaken, we are pushing 60 years old, said Michelle Nielson, who, along with her husband Darrell and friends LeeAnn and Randy Freng, are the leaders of the Mission Hill group. I think, in a nutshell, our family believes that 4-H is family and friendship.
She said that the reason they have involved their children with the program is the interaction within the community and their family, and the bonds it forms.
Part of 4-H is that when you deal with the animals and projects, you cant do them without having family to help you, she said. It goes from the parents all the way down to the child. We even go to grandpa and grandma for support. Older brothers and sisters help with the bigger animals. Family is what 4-H is, and that is kind of an institution that is getting lost in our society.
Beyond the social interaction, it also provides a great learning experience for the club members.
By doing projects for 4-H, it helps us with our schoolwork, too, said Tess Hacecky, a Hiller who is a freshman in high school. Often, the standards for 4-H are higher than for school. So, if we are used to doing work to the standards of 4-H, we will apply them for school, as well, because you learn to want to be the best at it.
She added that when her teachers find out that she is a 4-H member, they make comments about how they see 4-Hers go above and beyond, and even more, have a high level of trustworthiness.
4-H is also about responsibility, said Hiller Morgan Nielson. You have to take care of your animals because, if you dont, they wont know you or trust you and it will show in the showmanship. You have to follow through. You have to keep your books and finish on time.
That responsibility is something that the leaders of the group try to encourage, even going so far as to suggest their children use assignments they have done for school and expand them for 4-H.
Part of the challenge we give the kids at the beginning of every 4-H year is that they have to pick a new project that they have not done before, Michelle Nielsen said. That can range anywhere from photography to livestock to home living. We even encourage them to go out a little further and consider doing something they have not experienced computer-wise: entomology, rock collecting. We challenge them to do something they have never done before.
If it comes down to the bottom line that there is a due date that they have to have the projects done by, we encourage them to use and expand on projects they have done for school. Put their projects to use for 4-H. It helps the kids to rethink and learn more, she said.
Kim Bennett, the leader of the Gayville Achievers club, said 4-H has changed a lot in her time with the program. She said most of the adults involved with 4-H were active 4-H members as children and were proud to see the traditions continue with their own.
4-H is a lot of things now. It is not just your home economics and agriculture, although that is a lot of what we do in our group. Its arts and crafts, its a lot of things, Bennett said. We have the SET program Science Engineering and Technology. It can help the kids go along way in life.
LeeAnn Freng added that there are also Youth-In-Action events where members have to do nutrition, properly setting a table, public speaking, and fashion review. And all of it involves a lot of judging.
Basically, we can do whatever we want to do: Its a free-for-all, Morgan said. If you want to do citizenship, you can do it. If you want to show animals, you do it.
Another component of 4-H that the members said was fun was community service projects.
We are a small town, so you know what needs work, who needs help, Bennett said. 4-Hers have done a lot of projects in our communities, from fixing up bathrooms to make them disabled-accessible to painting the 4-H building. They get involved.
According the club leaders there are currently 145 children involved in the program in Yankton County.
I dont say this to sound conceited, but I cant help but think, when you see or watch some of those home improvement shows on television and the girls are making curtains out of sheets or the boys are able to just get things done, I cant help but think, they had to have been involved with 4-H or something of that sort to be that resourceful, Michelle said. They had to have had someone or something that taught them to get to that point in life, and I think 4-H does a good job doing that.