The 4-H program in Canada is celebrating its 100th anniversary, a milestone marked at the Yorkton 4-H Regional Beef Show held Wednesday as part of the Yorkton Exhibition.
The show was a time to reflect on what it is about 4-H which has kept in vibrant for a century.
Craig Boake, president of the Regional 4-H Show has been involved at the board level for a decade, including time on the provincial Council. Being involved as an adult came naturally after having been a member as a youth.
"I was a 4-H member in light horse," he said, adding he was not allowed to be in a beef club. "We had to sell the calves to live."
And then his children joined.
"My kids have all been through the 4-H program," he said.
Boake said he likes 4-H because while leaders are there to guide, the program focuses on youth learning through hands-on opportunities.
"It really lets kids learn by doing," he said. "It's all for youth to learn by doing."
And education is a two-way street, said Boake, adding that keeps him involved.
"I still believe I still learn from the youth, and hopefully still have something to give to the youth," he said.
The core focus of education through 4-H is something Boake said stays with youth well past being in the program.
"It's building future leaders of the community," he said. "… They learn the life skills of being a leader."
Brian Berrns of Theodore was among a panel of four judges for the Show. He said being a judge was "tough" for him, especially dealing with 4-H, where his perspective is a bit different about the goal of the organization.
"I think 4-H is about raising an animal, not raising the best animal," he said, again noting it is about learning responsibility more than having the best animal.
Berrns said 4-H is about providing youth an environment in which to learn.
"It's teaching youth responsibility and social skills," said one of the show judges.
Berrns said his family has long been involved in 4-H.
"My father was one of the first leaders of Springside 4-H," he said, adding he went through the program, as did his children.
Leeann Weinbender of Canora also has her roots in 4-H.
"I was a member of the Fairmede 4-H Beef Club where my Dad was the Leader. I started when I was five and continued on till I was 18," she said.
And her involvement continues now as an adult.
"I have been very fortunate to have been involved with the Springside 4-H Beef club for over 15 years now as a parent and leader," she said. "Being involved for this many years and watching the members grow up and be successful using the skill they gained from the 4-H program has been very rewarding."
The skills learned are ones which hold 4-H members on good stead outside of the organization.
Berrns said he has a brother who is in charge of hiring for a workforce of near 300.
"If being in 4-H is on the resume it hits the top of the pile," he said. Berrns said while his brother might be biased by his own past involvement in 4-H, it is also good business since former 4-H members know about public speaking, record keeping and other skills important in the workforce.
John Simpson of Theodore, also a judge of the show, agreed. He said if you talk to two kids on a job interview and one has 4-H they will have an edge based on learning skills such as public speaking and working with others.
And after a 100 years the basis of 4-H remains, said Weinbender.
"I don't believe the benefits of the program have changed," she said. "The program worked back then and works now. The different projects that are available for youth to become involved however is more diverse than ever. After 100 years in Canada, the 4-H program has something for everyone whatever your interests are."
Boake said he sees 4-H as having adapted.
"I wouldn't say so much changed, but they've added new technology to it, new projects," he said, adding evolution was necessary.
Boake said 4-H grew out of a basically agrarian country, and with the population now shifted to urban, 4-H had to add new projects to be relevant to youth in the city.
"Every youth should have an opportunity to be in 4-H," he said.
The basic program has stayed the same, said Allan Polegi.
"The fundamentals of the program have remained the same," he said. "The motto 'Learn to do by Doing' is what the 4-H program has stressed since its beginning. This model enables young people to learn skills and develop their sense of responsibility. Watching our kids and their fellow club members over the years, this has certainly proven true."
Kaitlyn Polegi was all smiles after capturing the champion heifer banner at this year's Regional Show.
"I've been in 4-H for 13 years. It's a good way to finish off, as I'm heading to university (in Saskatoon) in the fall," she said.
For Kaitlyn Polegi it was also the conclusion of a 13-year journey to the winner's circle.
"I've never had a champion," she said, adding it's something she can relate to younger members about perseverance. "I've been dead last is so many classes," she said, adding "every year you just try harder, try to be a little bit better. You've got to work at it and it will work out."
Kaitlyn Polegi said 4-H has taught her many things, skills she has taken with her to other endeavours.
"So many of my skills in school have come from being involved in 4-H … It has helped me in so many different ways," she said.
Having to keep a 4-H record book has helped Kaitlyn Polegi be organized, a shill she said was important in high school and will be more so as she works toward becoming a veterinarian.
Kaitlyn Polegi noted that she was up at 5 a.m. to get ready for the Regional Show, and that too is a skill learned which will be important in university and a career.
Weinbender said what she learned in 4-H as a youth has stuck with her as an adult.
"Being involved in a beef club through my 4-H years definitely taught me discipline, work ethic, as well as the importance of youth in agriculture," she offered. "I also was able to take part in some 4-H travel opportunities and camps which are still available for 4-H members today."
In Kaitlyn's case 4-H is in the blood, her father Allan having been involved in the program as a youth too.
"Yes, I was a member of the Jedburgh 4-H Community Club," he said. "I was enrolled in the Potatoe, Grain, Outdoorsman and Junior Leadership projects."
And he stayed involved.
"For more than five-years, I was the General Leader of the Jedburgh Club," said Allan Polegi. "Most recently, for the past 15 years, I have been a 4-H parent. All three of our kids were members of the Springside 4-H Beef Club."
Like his daughter, Allan Polegi said 4-H prepared him for life.
"It gave me skills in communicating with others, public speaking, confidence in myself to present my project to others, taught me how to combine fun and work with others to achieve a common goal, created an interest in growing crops and food, learned outdoor survival skills, and taught me the importance of record keeping," he said.
When asked what made 4-H special Simpson also said the organization's motto summed it up best "to learn to do by doing."
A former 4-H member himself, Simpson termed involvement "a great opportunity to start a project and take it to the end."
It also taught some realities to a young Simpson, and others.
"You stay at home and think you've got the best one then go to town (to show) and find out where it really sits," he said, adding that often was not the top of the class. "But you came back the next year trying harder."
Weinbender said 4-H really focuses on developing youth to succeed as adults.
"4-H builds leaders," she said. "I have witnessed it first-hand. It has a proven track record for developing leadership qualities, self-confidence, and teamwork. 4-H members show noticeable skills in decision-making, public speaking and community involvement.
"For myself, being involved with a 4-H Beef Club as a member and now a leader. Keeping youth connected to agriculture in any way possible way is an asset in itself."
Allan Polegi said whatever project a youth chooses, they will learn broader skills.
"Whichever project a 4-H member is involved in, it teaches responsibility," he said. "The members learn their new skills by doing the work. The members learn to work together as a club when they plan and carry out their fun activities and their fundraising events. They respect and appreciate the volunteers who are their leaders. And the members learn the valuable skill of public speaking.
"As for the leaders, they have the opportunity to share their knowledge and interests with the youth and watch the members grow and develop into responsible young adults."