by Michael Sutphin
Virginia 4-H attracts children and teens from many backgrounds, both rural and urban, and offers them a variety of experiences with caring adults to develop their life skills. According to Cathy Sutphin, Virginia 4-H associate director, studies show that 4-H members do better in school, are more motivated to help others, feel safe to try new things, achieve a sense of self-esteem, and develop lasting relationships. “4-H’ers are able to transfer their successes with 4-H to other parts of their lives,” says Sutphin.
Mary Catherine “M.C.” McGinn of Henry County was following in the footsteps of her mother and aunt when as a fourth-grader she got involved in canoeing, horsemanship, performing arts, and swimming at the Smith Mountain Lake 4-H Educational Center. Now a graduate student studying physiology at the Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) School of Medicine, McGinn continues to spend summers at the center, where she has taught performing arts, a challenge course, and the counselor-in-training program.
“I am the person I am today because of 4-H,” says McGinn, who credits 4-H with helping her oversee her sorority’s recruitment efforts and serve as business manager for her college a cappella group. “I wish that every kid had the opportunity to go to 4-H camp – both as a camper and a counselor.”
McGinn completed her bachelor’s degree in kinesiology at William and Mary and plans to attend dental school after finishing coursework at VCU. “M.C. has always been a person of many talents and is always willing to lend a hand to help others,” says Brian Hairston, 4-H youth development agent in Henry County. “Every year she comes back to Henry County and helps train teens for the upcoming summer camp. I wish I had more M.C.’s around.”
Brandon Pierce began his 4-H experience at the Airfield 4-H Educational Center in Wakefield, Va., when he was 9 years old. He enjoyed the camps, which taught him important life skills and influenced his character development. “I had the most passion for 4-H camping, but I also took part in public speaking contests, attended 4-H State Congress, competed in a peanut-growing contest, raised and showed pigs, and participated in an entrepreneurship mini-society program.”
Pierce, a Surry County native, served in local and state 4-H leadership roles, including president of the State 4-H Cabinet from 2007 to 2008. Virginia’s 4-H All Stars inducted him into its honor society, and he now represents the state on the National 4-H Conference program committee. After visiting Virginia Tech for 4-H State Congress, Pierce decided to return to the campus for college, in part because of his 4-H experiences. Today, he is a first-year student majoring in agricultural and applied economics. He also interns at the State 4-H Office.
“Brandon just embraced 4-H and jumped into the program from the beginning,” says Billie Jean Elmer, Surry County 4-H youth development agent. “He is a wonderful scholar of public speaking and has done incredible work with livestock.”
Tyler Painter of Botetourt County experienced 4-H for the first time at a camp. Starting at age 11, Painter attended the W.E. Skelton 4-H Educational Center at Smith Mountain Lake for two summers, then returned as a teen counselor for five years. He is now a summer staff member and coordinator at the center. Through his involvement with the Botetourt County 4-H Shooting Sports Club, he achieved archery, shotgun, and rifle certification.
With 12 years of 4-H experience, Painter has become a mentor to campers – both teens and adults.
“During my second summer as a teen volunteer, I had a camper that was incredibly homesick to start the week,” Painter says. “After spending several hours with him, I was able to convince him to stay for the entire week. This experience came to full circle this past summer when this teen shared this same story at our reflections ceremony and thanked me for spending time with him and convincing him to stay.”
Painter majors in recreation, parks, and tourism at Radford University, where he is a junior. He hopes to pursue a career as a 4-H agent or a 4-H center program director.
“One year, Tyler came to visit with me prior to 4-H camp and during the conversation mentioned that he was really going to push himself to take on greater leadership roles as a teen counselor,” recalls Glenda Snyder, 4-H youth development agent in Botetourt County. “He followed through on that promise to himself and me. From that point forward, Tyler continued to grow and develop his leadership potential, responsibility, and public speaking skills.”
Kyley Clevenger discovered 4-H when she was 8 years old, living on a Frederick County cattle farm. Since then, she has participated in 4-H on the local, state, and national levels, meeting people and traveling all over the country to show livestock. She raised cattle, sheep, and hogs and served as president of the Frederick County 4-H Livestock Club for three years.
The Virginia 4-H All Stars inducted Clevenger into its honor society for her 4-H service. “Looking back through my middle school, high school, and college years, 4-H was the most significant program that I have been a part of and it has opened up so many opportunities, whether through school, summer internships, or personal achievement,” Clevenger says.
Clevenger also received the Agnes Shirley Scholarship – a $4,000 award for an outstanding Frederick County 4-H’er. Now a senior majoring in agricultural and applied economics at Virginia Tech, Clevenger plans a career in the agricultural marketing sector.
Cynthia Rowles, 4-H youth development agent in Middlesex County and formerly in Frederick County, explains that 4-H helped Clevenger grow as a student, community member, and citizen. “Kyley’s involvement in 4-H helped her become more independent and more comfortable at Virginia Tech and in a variety of other settings,” Rowles says.