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4-H Youth Extension Educators Stay Busy Year Round

by Holly Hahn Yoder

Published: Friday, December 29, 2017

During July fair week, the Allen County Fairgrounds are teeming with life. There are kids running, animals squealing, and the scent of deep fried food intermingling with the barn smells. By the end of December, it is a different story. The fair board hosts the Christmas in the Country over four days at the beginning of the month as a fundraiser for the fairgrounds. Then, a ghostlike quiet settles across the premises. However silent the fairgrounds might be, the Extension office is still humming along as the calendar year winds down.

By December, the 4-H year is already in full swing, according to Barb Thuma, Allen County Extension educator. She has been re-enrolling previous 4-H members and enrolling new members since the first of October. Reminders to re-enroll are prepared and sent out by email to past 4-H youths. Enrollment is done electronically as well.

There are some project clubs that have been meeting all along and others that are just getting started. The deadline to join the two 4-H shooting sports programs is at the end of December. Thuma has been working to get these registrations completed. Another one of Thuma's projects for the month of December has been the revising and updating of the 4-H project rule book. The book will be ready for circulation in January.

The Extension educators are also distributing tri-fold flyers that detail the various 4-H programs, projects and related expenses. Schools and libraries are the usual destinations for the flyers. Extension educators have also been publicizing the SPARK program to third to twelfth grade students of Allen County in December.

The SPARK program is a number of short-term hands-on workshops with a narrow focus. Four-H membership is not required, but the program fee will automatically enroll the participant in 4-H. The Nature Series has met twice already and the last session was Dec. 18. Thum and the other Extension educators are presently promoting and signing up kids for two upcoming SPARK clubs-origami and card making.

The Extension educators are also letting the 4-H members know that non-livestock record keeping has just gotten easier. For the 2018 year, all non-livestock project record sheets have been condensed to one page according to the December newsletter.

Preparing the January newsletter is another task that must be completed in December. Even though the fair is still seven months away, 4-H members need to be reminded about the various deadlines for livestock projects. There are opportunities for youth to join the 4-H livestock and horse and pony judging teams that will be meeting in January for the first time.

For urban youth living in Fort Wayne, there are opportunities to exhibit an animal at the fair, added Thuma. Extension educators can connect young people to one of five llama farms in Allen County. They will lease a llama to a city-dwelling young person. The swine project is the largest animal project at the fair in 2017 in spite of having a large part of the population living in the city or suburban areas. A number of 4-H youth are able to keep the animals on the property of someone else who lives outside the city limits, said Thuma.

Marketing 4-H and the fair to city and suburban dwellers is a constant challenge.

"There is always something going on downtown (Fort Wayne) and at the Coliseum. But people have the opportunity to attend a county fair that's near an urban location and is easily accessible," said Thuma.

Like many other government agencies, budgets for the Extension office get tighter and tighter. The Allen County office has found a way to offset some of these budget cuts. Extension office members sold poinsettias and Christmas cactuses in November to augment their office funds. The first of December was a busy day for the staff because it was the plant pickup day for the buyers.

As the year winds down, the fair is seven short months away. Most of the youngsters have already signed up for their projects and have started taking photos or preparing a pen for an animal at their farm. Some of these 4-H members will complete their projects without ever exhibiting at the county fair. Others await the beginning of the fair to find out how well they succeeded in preparing their projects for judging. Often, young 4-H members' successes in the show ring or on poster boards depends on the preparations they made back in December.

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