Between the Lines: Lessons of 4-H still needed

�We can�t kick the can down the road any longer.�

That statement, or something similar to that, has become a popular phrase, a grouping of political buzzwords, if you will, in recent months.

Gov. Dennis Daugaard used it during his successful gubernatorial campaign last fall.

And now members of Congress have adopted it. Listen to any of the nightly cable �news� shows or read a newspaper and you�ll likely find a statement similar to this being uttered by a state or national leader as they express the need to not put off making difficult decision regarding fiscal matters.

This utterance reflects the need for action, the wanting of a solution to the economic dilemma facing our federal, state and local governments.

Gov. Daugaard and the South Dakota Legislature have done a good job of not kicking the can this year.

Instead, it seems the state�s young people are the ones who have been getting a swift kick � repeatedly.

The latest boot to the collective butts of our youth seemed to come out of nowhere. We have been so fixated for months now, it seems, on funding for both K-12 and higher education that no one issued a warning that the budget cuts would mean the closing of most of the Extension offices in the state.

It will mean laying off 99 Extension educators. It will close the office here in Vermillion, unless, it appears, the Clay County Commission has some ideas for funding that may keep someone around our Extension building during the day.

That hasn�t been worked out yet. The state Extension service is scheduled to begin meeting with county commissioners this week to explain what options lay ahead.

These changes are scheduled to occur this fall, after all of the county 4-H Achievement Days and the South Dakota State Fair have been held.

Naturally, one can�t help but think �What next?�

Is it time to begin considering getting rid of the county fair experience all together? It�s a question that no doubt is raised each year as local officials struggle to put on a fair with a dwindling number of resources and a likewise decreasing number of youth participating in Achievement Days.

It is ironic that the biggest draw at the Clay County Fair here in Vermillion in recent years has not been the 4-H Achievement Days or the local entertainment, or even the free barbecue served at the ending of each year�s event. The big crowd pleaser is something not really fair-related at all � the local demolition derby.

It�s easy to mutter that this is all simply a business decision, a cut to help a budget ledger that had been swimming in red ink get back in the black.

It�s a cold, heartless thing to do. If it is finally agreed, after the dust settles from Tuesday�s surprise announcement, that this is something that must be done, I hope we can move on.

We must collectively consider what to do next to keep some semblance of the revered Midwestern experience of taking part in Achievement Days alive.

Back in 1998, after spending a very hot week at the county fairgrounds, I was reminded of my own 4-H experiences, especially as I watched a young girl repeatedly struggle as she attempted to show a heifer who was in no mood to be led around a ring.

The young girl finally lost her composure and began sobbing as she struggled with every ounce of her being to keep her animal under control.

She, along with every other kid in South Dakotan who has ever participated in Achievement Days (including me) was the recipient of a very important lesson. In the column I wrote following the fair, after watching this girl�s experience, I noted, �4-H teaches a very important lesson about life. You can�t quit, no matter how bad things seem.�

It�s a lesson I hope our young people will continue to learn through firsthand experience in South Dakota�s 4-H programs.

It�s also a lesson, in these trying economic times, that I hope the grownup decision-makers � who ultimately have the last word on the fate of 4-H and Extension � will never forget.

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