Thanks 4-H: A girly girl’s take on the green clover

“Mom, can I be a Girl Scout?”

“Well, you’ll have to choose between Girl Scouts and 4-H.”

“Okay, Girl Scouts.”

“Nope, you’re going to be in 4-H.”

My nine-year-old self was not happy. Unlike my cookie-selling peers, I would be sporting a green clover instead of a green vest. My fate had been decided for me. For the next nine years I would spend the first Sunday evening of every month in an old community center discussing record books, moving and second-ing stuff and watching fellow members teach my club the different parts of a pig.

I was not an enthusiastic 4-Her. I once said that I would force my future children (if the earth ever has the privilege of having Dana Jr.’s running around) to be in 4-H, so I could torture them just as my mom “tortured” me. However, some late night thinking last week resulted in the realization that my history in the organization may have helped determined my career path and is responsible for a few of my good qualities. Such as:

How to speak in public

Do you know how nerve-wracking it is to be a fourth-grader and speak in front of a room full of 30 older farm boys? Probably not, unless you were also in 4-H. It is terrifying. But every member must give a presentation to the club once a year, and I was trembling as I instructed the whole room on how to conquer the oh-so-important task of making silly putty. Throughout the years it got easier, and I can now brag about the fact that I taught my club how to bake cookies, say the alphabet in sign language and how to put on a puppet show. You’re welcome, Des Moines Ramblers. I have genetics to thank for my outgoing personality, but I have those yearly presentations to thank for my public speaking skills. These skills came in handy at the state fair queen contest when I had to speak in front of 1,000+ people, college level speech classes and presentations to company executives during internships. So thanks, 4-H.

Young, awkward Middle School Dana before her club presentation where she demonstrated how to put on a puppet show.
Young, awkward Middle School Dana before her club presentation where she demonstrated how to put on a puppet show.

How to [attempt to be] domestic

The minimal cooking skills I have come from summer days spent in the kitchen preparing whatever culinary delight I decided to throw on a paper plate to be judged at the fair. My current diet only consists of scrambled eggs, yogurt and anything I can throw in the microwave, so it may surprise you that I’m a total pro at baking homemade bread and a bomb pie crust. So shout out to my mom for teaching my culinary-challenged self to bake these items and helping me earn that blue ribbon.

And then there’s sewing. I only have two trophies to my name – one from a pedal tractor pull when I was five, and the other for the Outstanding Clothing Exhibit at the Greater Jefferson County Fair. I may be biased, but that rainbow romper with perfect topstitching and a flawless zipper was the most beautiful item in that exhibit building. Trust me, the skill of sewing definitely still comes in handy. Especially at Halloween when my roommate needs me to sew her a vest, or when I need to shorten a plaid skirt so I can be Cher from Clueless. So thanks, 4-H.

My prize-winning rainbow romper that I never had the courage to wear in public.
My prize-winning rainbow romper that I never had the courage to wear in public.

How to care for a living organism

My older sister was really into showing swine. Like, really into it. So it was expected that I would follow in her footsteps. I remember being a fourth-grader and walking into a confinement for the first time and picking out the baby piggies I would mother for the next four months. I remember feeding them everyday, vaccinating them, cleaning the pen, showing them off to a judge, selling them and then loading them into a semi. After five years of this routine, my dad finally accepted the fact that I was not my older sister and let me give it up after I left the hydrant on for 24 hours when filling up the pigs’ water tank.

Baby-faced Dana shows her pigs for the first time.
Baby-faced Dana shows her pigs for the first time.

Despite some of my mistakes, I learned how to raise and care for an animal. I remember my favorite pig, who I named Godzilla in a Dress because she was HUGE, getting pneumonia and talking my parents into letting her live in our heated garage for a week. Those pigs were my responsibility, which meant it was my job to check on them before school every day, it was my job to clean out the water tank, (the stench of feed that’s been sitting in water for weeks is permanently engrained in my mind) and it was my job to make sure they looked spotless on the day of the show. I may be a blonde who is obsessed with shoes and shopping – but I can also tell you what a gilt and a barrow are. Shocking, I know. So thanks, 4-H.

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How to be a loser

Showing pigs also taught me how to respectfully accept criticism, because let’s be honest, I rarely won blue ribbons. My pen of three usually took residence in the last pen in the show arena. Yeah, I cried some, but I eventually learned how to lose gracefully which is a skill that I’ll always need. Thanks 4-H.

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An accurate representation of my attitude toward 4-H at the time.

How to do administrative tasks

When you were nine, did you know what parliamentary procedure was? Probably not. Yeah, it took years before I confidently spoke up to “move” that our club should organize the annual Easter egg hunt or “second” the movement that we make apple cider for a fundraiser, but I eventually became a pro at making the meeting move efficiently as possible (just so it would get over early and I could head to the refreshment line.) I may have never stepped up to the plate and served as club president and banged that gavel like both of my sisters, but I was club secretary. That role taught me how to take and report meeting times and notes and how to do mass mailings. It turns out that mailing 30 meeting reminders every month for several years comes in handy when I mail out 500+ annual reports at my current job. So thanks, 4-H.

How to make goals

Any 4-Her remembers the dreadful paperwork that accompanied their projects. If you were like me, you never actually declared your goal until after the project was complete, and you just made stuff up to sound like you wanted to accomplish a lot more than just finish the project in time for the fair and receive a blue ribbon.

I remember my mom telling me how good I was at declaring a goal and writing paragraphs describing what I did and how it was important to me. Little did we know that years later I would be pursuing a career that requires developing goals, strategies, objects and tactics. Labor Day weekends growing up were always filled with me finishing my record book last minute, where I discussed my goals, how I fulfilled those goals, evaluated myself and included photos and documents as evidence. It turns out that the strategic plans that I devote semesters to in my PR classes, and the limitless strategic plans that I will devote my future to in my career are basically adult versions of record books. Good thing I got a nine-year head start with this. So thanks, 4-H.

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I was not your typical 4-Her. I may have been born into farming family, but my 4-H projects included experiments on which brands of nail polish lasted longest, my gumboots were pink and my meeting notes were written in glittery gel pens. But I graduated high school with a 4-H scholarship and skills that others do not have the opportunity to learn until they live on their own. I may not have had the best attitude during my time in 4-H, but I’ve proudly been using my “head for clearer thinking, my heart for greater loyalty, my hands for larger service and my health for better living” since 2003. So thanks, 4-H.

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While other kids had woodworking projects, I chose to have a project in the area of “Clothing Selection.” Yes, my project was basically an excuse to go shopping and buy lime green Crocs. Let’s just appreciate the irony of me wearing a “Country Girl” shirt with Crocs. And those bangs. Dang.

Ps: My [potential] future children will sport the green clover as well, not because I want to “torture” them, but because I want them to grow up to be great, responsible humans. Even if it means that I will have to literally drag them to monthly meetings by the collar, just like my mom did. So thanks, Mom.

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