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I didn’t grow up in 4-H, but 4-H makes me better each and every day

This week I’ve been touring the Florida Panhandle and seeing the impact of Hurricane Sally on the 4-H program there. It’s heartbreaking to see damage to places where so many 4-H memories have been made. I think of all of those memories, mine made more recently in my life than others my age. While I had heard about 4-H growing up, I did not have a chance to participate. Instead I came to know about it like many other things in my life: I learned about it.

I recall the first time I learned of a program whose sole purpose was to help youth get on a path to success through numerous modes, from community clubs to overnight camps. I was asked to help with a youth financial literacy project. I was intrigued.

A few years later and I came to Florida to work in the UF/IFAS Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences and as state specialist for UF/IFAS Extension. And there I met Dr. Joy Jordan, who let me know that I would be helping with youth consumer education… who was I to disagree? Even after Joy retired, I continued to spend time with 4-H. My own research taught me that people who learned about finances when they were younger had better financial outcomes later in life, and 4-H was a great way to reach youth.

When the opportunity came in 2015 for me to assume the role of State Program Leader for 4-H, Families and Communities, I could not believe it. A program that I admired for so long, and an amazing group of faculty members across the state and dedicated state team—I got to work with them! But, little did I know how much more I would learn. I learned to appreciate so many things I have never done or experienced before.

I had been through leadership programs, but now I was a leader, I looked to the great state officers and program leadership teams of past and present. I learned to listen, and when I thought I had the answer, to listen some more!

I did not know how amazing it would feel to raise an animal, nurture it, train it – until I saw that amazement in the eyes of our 4-H youth. And I held my first baby goat!

Dr. Gutter with baby goat

At the state fair.

I did not realize the courage it takes to stand up and perform, not for a class, but because you want to share your gifts.

I did not realize how much growth can take place over a week of summer camp at Cherry Lake, until my son came home from a week away, and I saw his new independence for myself.

I did not realize how generous communities could be, until I saw our thousands of volunteers at our local, regional and state events. Our communities’ passion for our youth and the program is inspiring.

I did not realize how wonderful a true sense of belonging can feel, until I made a music video with our 4-H’ers and saw how we were all part of the amazing program that has helped each one of us grow.

So while did I miss out not being in 4-H as a youth, all I know I is I am making up for it now as your State Program Leader and seeing these moments through your photos, videos, blogs, and sometimes even in person. Thank you, Florida 4-H, for accepting me as a 4-H’er!

So, I hope you take the time to share a memory with us or with a new friend. Let people know you are a proud 4-H’er! Bring a friend to a meeting or tell a fellow parent about the program’s impact on your life. Together we can make sure every youth in Florida has a chance to experience these moments, too!