A 4-H Love Story Comes Full Circle
Stacey (Ditty) Warden joined the Lovedale 4-H Club at the age of ten as a shy girl not knowing just how drastically 4-H would impact her life. She joined upon the recommendation of her aunt, who had just started working at the Extension Office as the new 4-H Secretary. One of Stacey’s first projects was poultry judging. A few years later, she met her future husband, Brad Warden, while attending the 4-H Ham and Hog workshop in Gainesville. Stacey and Brad showed cattle and participated on the 4-H Livestock, Poultry and Meats Judging teams at the county, state and national levels. They attribute their success to supportive parents as well as their former 4-H Agent, Shelia Andreason, who now works for Alabama 4-H. Shelia remembers their determination and dedication, “4-H was a safe place for kids to learn how to compete in a competitive world. Brad and Stacey easily mastered the vocabulary, points to evaluate, and steps to give a logical set of oral reasons and were able to transition from one judging topic to the next. I am very proud to see them coaching judging teams for Jackson County as alumni of the program 20 years later!”
Brad and Stacey also transitioned from childhood friends to teenage sweethearts. They married soon after high school graduation and have been married 18 years. They have two children, Hayden and Eden. Today, their son Hayden shows steers and participates in poultry, livestock, and meats judging. Eden is not yet old enough to join 4-H, but is a ‘future 4-Her in training.”
Last year, Brad and Stacey decided to start a 4-H club so that other youth (including their own) could benefit from 4-H the same way they did. “Kids need an outlet to learn about agriculture and livestock and we wanted to continue the strong tradition of livestock judging in Jackson County.” Their passion for 4-H is contagious. Their club is one of the fastest growing clubs in the county, with nearly 50 members. “It was a real eye opener to see how many youth and parents were attracted to learning about livestock. Many of them had never owned an animal or participated in a judging contest before joining 4-H. We were amazed at the response we got,” said Stacey.
One of the reasons that this club is so popular is because Brad and Stacey are passionate advocates for 4-H. They are quick to share why learning about agriculture is still relevant today, despite a decrease in the number of “farm kids.” Stacey shares, “Jackson County is an agricultural county. Kids need to know about agriculture in order to grow up to be informed consumers, stewards, and citizens. Poultry judging is a great way for kids to get started in agriculture. It teaches them about quality control, communication, and reasoning skills. The skills they learn are very practical and relate to everyday life. 4-H is a true testament to what the programs teach the youth. Once parents see what the kids are learning, they want their kids involved.”
“I tell parents all the time that I would not be the person I am today if I had not joined 4-H. I was a poor farm girl that had never been outside of Jackson County. 4-H helped me learn how to speak in front of others, build confidence, and gave me so many opportunities I would not have had otherwise. This is what is missing in other programs, which tend to just focus on fun activities. In 4-H, activities are fun, but they also help youth develop valuable life skills that will carry them through school and their future career. 4-H focuses on the big picture of positive youth development, and kids are hungry for that kind of learning because they can’t get it anywhere else.”
Brad and Stacey attribute the success of their club not only because of the content they teach, but also to a dedicated group of 4-H parents who are willing to pitch in and help out whenever needed. 4-H parents Stephen and Casey Roach shared, “We are so thankful that we have the opportunity to be a part of a 4-H club where the leaders get more excited about the kids’ accomplishments than the kids do! Brad and Stacey cheer on all the 4-H members and encourage them to do their best. They’ve done such a tremendous job that the kids are placing in competitions, gaining confidence, and learning valuable information about livestock. We couldn’t be happier or more appreciative of all that Brad and Stacey do for the Jackson County 4-H Livestock Club.”
There are no guarantees that you will meet your future spouse in 4-H, but you will reap benefits by sharing your passion and expertise as a 4-H volunteer! 4-H alumni like Brad and Stacey make ideal volunteers. Stacey advises “Jump right in- don’t hesitate! We were not sure about it at first, but with support from our 4-H Agent, other parents and the community, things have fallen into place. It is not nearly as intimidating as we thought it would be.” To find out how you can leverage your skills and experience as a 4-H volunteer, contact your local Extension Office or visit http://florida4h.org/volunteers.
Your opinion matters to us! Please take this short survey to help us improve our blog https://ufl.qualtrics.com/SE/?SID=SV_3gtLKjqia3F75QN.