The Snowman in Your Backyard
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What do buttons and carrots have in common? This time of year it is probably easy to guess a snowman but what does that have to do with 4-H? Each one of the parts of a snowman, alone, may be useful but together they become a frosty symbol of youth, winter fun, and for today, a practical demonstration. Using the visual of a snowman I want to share with you the benefits to youth who belong to an organized group.
First, you must build the base. Here in the NC piedmont the snow is usually wet, heavy, and filled with grass and pine straw making every snowman easily recognizable as a local creation. Starting with a small snowball then building and patting it until it is big enough to begin rolling it across the yard, the snowman’s base enlarges. The snow in your yard decreases revealing paths of bare grass crisscrossing the yard. I want to compare this sturdy snowman base to how 4-H’ers who are a part of a club begin to build leadership skills. 4-H special interest clubs elect youth officers, assign youth pledge leaders, and may request volunteer program leaders. Members may come hesitantly into the process, beginning with a smaller task like the pledge. Through volunteer leader support and guidance, youth are gradually encouraged to build their skills incrementally by taking on larger responsibilities. Similar to the wide variety of snowmen we may see created this winter, the foundation of club leadership is unique to each 4-H club as are the youth members participating.
Next comes the belly of the snowman where we may find spare buttons and scavenged stick arms and hands. Smaller than the base but very important since in my analogy it represents regular activity. Today it is easy for youths to become sedentary. The documentary Childhood 2.0 tells us how different it is for young people today who have never known life without computers. The screen is an addictive draw for youths of all ages and parents have to work to find other healthy outlets for teen expression, socialization, and skill-building experiences. The screen is here to stay, that is a fact, but 4-H clubs can provide regular personal activity in a variety of interest areas and encouragement to “use our hands to larger service” as the 4-H pledge says.
The scavenged stick arms and hands represent the opportunity to build teamwork skills. Some clubs offer specific team building activities but all clubs encourage their members to work together. The shooting sports club is hopefully building a team of competitors to attend regional shooting sports events. Clubs can compete in skill-a-thon tournament opportunities and knowledge bowls. Learning to work together is an important skill for every individual to practice.
Let’s put the head on this snowman and pledge it “to clearer thinking” because we have a group of youths who are making things happen with the support of a team of volunteer club leaders and 4-H professionals. Recently a young lady decided our county needed a teen youth council and she has persevered with the help of 4-H networking to create this council. One club took on the project of putting bicycle racks around town and now you can secure your bike to a number of ornamental racks around Sanford and Lee County. Another club created two patriotic quilts to donate to two local veterans through the American Legion. These are just a few examples of how 4-H’ers are making things happen.
On the head, you will find the snowman’s mouth. Made up of many common objects like sticks, stones, or pinecones, the mouth represents the power of networking. We find our volunteers are made up of community members with a variety of backgrounds and skills. 4-H’ers are offered opportunities to meet, interview, or learn from elected officials, business owners, and community leaders who have an interest in the positive youth development provided by the 4-H model. Members are encouraged to get to know each other, building relationships at the county, district, and state levels of 4-H.
No snowman is complete without his button eyes, representing increased knowledge. The 4-H slogan is “Learn by Doing” and using the experiential model club members will learn new things and internalize these new skills. We have special interest clubs, summer workshops, weekend trips, teen weekends just to name a few opportunities for increased learning.
Why did the snowman get kicked out of the produce department? He was caught picking his nose, ba dum tss! The carrot nose represents friendships. You can pick your friends and you can pick your nose but you can’t pick your friend’s nose. But seriously folks, 4-H club members become friends through shared experiences. This one is a no-brainer. Bonds are forged through working together to reach a common goal or fulfilling an interest. Members of 4-H may compete together, campaign together, team-build, travel, or work on a project together. Club meetings offer an opportunity to spend structured time together with a caring adult.
Look out the window and see a completed snowman along with the bare paths of earth left by the process. You don’t notice the individual parts but a completed snowman. 4-H Clubs all look different, they are made up of volunteers and youths who bring different interests and take home new experiences, knowledge, and friendships. For a time they are together working towards a common goal and gaining leadership and team-building skills for their future. Club members are making connections through networking and volunteer opportunities. Through regular activity away from their screens, at least for a moment, they will increase knowledge in a hands-on, experiential manner that is fun but educational. There are no bones about it, these snowmen-like 4-H clubs are amazing and you have one in your backyard. Lee County currently boasts seven clubs for many interests and youth ages five to eighteen. Contact Pam Kerley at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Pam is the 4-H Program Assistant for North Carolina Cooperative Extension, Lee County Center. 4-H is a positive youth development program offering programs that suit a variety of backgrounds, interests, budgets, and schedules. From in-school to after-school, clubs to camps, 4-H’s programs are available in Lee County and we welcome children who want to have fun, learn, and grow. In North Carolina, 4-H is brought to you by the NC State Cooperative Extension. N.C. Cooperative Extension’s experts and educators share university knowledge, information, and tools you can use every day to improve your life.
Photo #2 from Instagram