Growing up in the hills of West Virginia, one of my favorite pastimes was to listen to the stories passed down through my family.
There were stories about my great-great-grandfather being a Native American chief and how that was passed down through their generations. Then there were stories of other ancestors coming to America from Germany.
Sometimes we would drive around gravel roads in my home state and listen to Mom talk about how poor they were (she was one of 12 children), and she would show us the shacks that they lived in.
All these stories had an impact on me as I was growing up, and it gave me an understanding and appreciation of who I am and where I come from.
Stories have always been a way for younger generations to connect with the older generation. However, it seems like nowadays young folks don’t want to sit down and listen to their elders. Even if it’s only because they’re overly distracted, the attitude is sometimes perceived as disrespect.
From my professional and personal account, I think young people really do want to hear the stories of the past and learn. 4-H has a strong history and is rich in traditions of individual struggles of farming to success in inventing new ways of farming. We now build robots in our 4-H club. 4-H celebrates the richness of the past, but we also embrace the future.
One thing this job has taught me is to be transparent with my own story. If you’ve ever read my articles, you know that I like to tell my personal story. There are parts of my story that did not always seem pleasant as my raising was sort of rough. But I survived, I learned, I forgave and I embrace it.
It hasn’t always been easy to embrace my story or even tell it. I have always worked with children and teens whether it was a camp counselor, a preschool teacher, youth group worker, case manager for foster children and now a 4-H Youth Development Agent, but I have not always been as free with my story.
That all changed when I knew of a teen who was struggling, and I didn’t share my entire testimony with him and tragedy struck. I made a vow then that if given the chance I would share my story in hopes that it touches another’s life.
This year we celebrate 100 years of Extension! We recently attended a Kentucky Cooperative Extension Professional Development Conference in which the theme was “extending knowledge and changing lives.”
The overall theme was the personal stories of all those who have been touched by Cooperative Extension, and for us it was 4-H. Throughout the conference we heard personal stories of how Cooperative Extension helps families and how folks still remember the lesson 4-H taught them in their youth.
We witnessed a re-enactment based on the very first Kentucky Extension Agent and what it was like 100 years ago. The conference buzzed with personal stories, and it was extremely entertaining and insightful.
During this conference I was given an opportunity to sit down with the new national CEO of 4-H, which was a pretty big honor. I am still not sure how I was chosen, but I embraced it and prepared.
The concentration of this meeting was about some of the grants we received, so I printed off the statistics and put all my ducks in a row. As my turned approached, I looked down at my notebook trying to memorize numbers (which for some reason is impossible for me) and make sure that I didn’t sound unprepared, since I was representing Madison County 4-H and Kentucky 4-H.
As the CEO looked at me, I instantly started rattling off the numbers that I had written down. I looked up, and she seemed unimpressed with what I was saying. Very gently, she mentioned that she was not here to learn about stats or numbers; she wanted to hear the stories.
Well, there went all my research out the window. I took a deep breath and just began to talk. I talked about what new things we are doing in the schools, I talked about the kids at the Teen Center and some of the activities we have done in the past.
As I talked, the CEO was engaged and wanted to know more and more details. Thanks to ya’ll and what I’ve been sharing with you, the readers, the stories just came naturally. Then the CEO asked about me and my story. I gulped and looked around the room filled with upper administration from the state office, and just talked.
As I talked, the CEO laughed, cried and seem to have an “I’m proud of you” smile on her face. Afterwards, she pulled me aside and talked about future opportunities for me to travel with National 4-H and share my story which I was humbled.
You see, 4-H played a big part of my life as a child. It taught me leadership. It taught me responsibility that my single mother working to support three children couldn’t have taught me. 4-H’s influence helped me cope with the life that I had been given, and it seemed to help my story reach a happy ending when things were not always peachy keen.
I am just one story about the positive impact of Extension. My coworkers and I still have to punch in the statistics, but we love hearing from you guys about the impact 4-H is having in your life. It could have even been your story or your child’s story but we really want to hear it. With this being the 100th year of Extension, what a great opportunity it is for you to share it with us.
If you have a great story that you would like to share, please feel free to send it to me by email (email@example.com), or if you see me in public please stop me and share it. My favorite thing about writing these articles is hearing the impact it is having with the readers, this happens at church, it happens at Walmart and even on the soccer fields, so keep those stories headed our way.
Educational programs of the Cooperative Extension Service serve all people regardless of race, color, age, sex, religion, disability or national origin.