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Friday, August 22, 2008

There's more to achieving success than winning a ribbon

Junior Leader Sarah Mathers, right, judges Lisa Heidelmeier's Magic Bars during pre-fair judging at the Walworth County Fairgrounds. Dan Plutchak/staff

What if Labor Day weekend came and there was no Walworth County Fair?

The local economy certainly would miss the boost it gets from the six-day run, which begins Wednesday.

Families would have to find other ways to end their summer.

Those in 4-H would miss out on the projects and meetings they devote their year to. And, they'd also miss out on a lot more.

Because of the fair and 4-H, these kids gain the opportunity to learn some important skills that will serve them well as they become adults.

4-H really isn't about projects and animals at all.The real value to those who participate, as well as the community at large, is the skills these 4-H kids gain from their experience.

There's no substitution.

Gaining leadership skills is a lot like gaining parenting skills. There's no manual to make you proficient, and no degree declaring you an expert.

Experience is the teacher and the road to success most often travels through failure.

Every community has different opportunities for young people to develop leadership skills - school programs, youth sports or scouting, for example.

But in Walworth County, 4-H plays a prominent role in the development of our next generation of leaders.

Many of today's community leaders have 4-H to thank for helping develop their talents.

Sarah Mathers of Williams Bay can tell you how important 4-H has been to her, and leadership skills are the first thing she'll mention.

Two weeks ago, Mathers was in the Youth Building at the fairgrounds judging the Cloverbud projects.

This year is her first as a judge, and she says it's a lot different being on the other side of the table.

She carefully listened as 8-year-old Lisa Heidelmeier of Lake Beulah 4-H described how she made her Magic Bars. Mathers offered some encouraging advice, then presented Heidelmeier with a ribbon.

"It's nice, because the Cloverbuds all get the same color ribbon," Mathers said.

The greater point of this exercise, however, is not about Heidelmeier's bars (which looked delicious, but the way), but the process by which Mathers passed down her experience and knowledge to the next generation.

"I like working with little kids and being part of the community," she said. "Without 4-H, I wouldn't have these skills."

She says they're important to her, because they'll help her in life.

At 15, she has no idea yet how true that will be.

She started in 4-H six years ago, when a friend, "who was big into 4-H," encouraged her to come to a meeting. It didn't take long before she was hooked.

For Mathers, her 4-H experience adds to what she's already doing.

She'll be a sophomore at Williams Bay High School and has to find time for swimming, basketball and softball, too. "I have a very hectic life," she said.

She also hopes to pick up a part-time job this fall, and perhaps get into a health care profession.

"I'm a very social person," and 4-H has fit her well.

It's a fit that benefits her community, too.

So as busy 4-H kids make their way around the fairgrounds this week, remember they're learning much more than how to win a blue ribbon at the fair.

They're learning how to take home a blue ribbon in life.


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