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4-H Offers Lifelong Lessons, Opportunities
By Jamie Vickers
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- One Mississippi 4-H'er liked the organization so much that she continues to refine her leadership skills on a regional, collegiate level and plans to continue as an adult volunteer after graduation.
"Many 4-H'ers want to stay involved with 4-H because they don't want to lose their skills, excitement and enthusiasm," said Dr. Rae Wilkinson, 4-H youth development curriculum specialist and advisor to Mississippi State University's collegiate 4-H club. "They see what 4-H already has done for them, and they want to continue in college and as adults."
Wilkinson said the college clubs help bridge the gap from being 4-H members and learning life skills to being college students who give back to the community through leadership and services.
Head, heart, hands and health are four words that are well-known to MSU's collegiate 4-H president, Karen Martin of Columbus, who is the newest president of the Southern Regional Collegiate 4-H Organization.
"4-H has been an important part of my life, since I was 8 years old," said Martin, an agronomy major at MSU. "Through 4-H, I have learned a lot about dealing with people, and I have also gained leadership skills."
Martin held several leadership positions when she was involved in 4-H in high school. She was president of the Lowndes County Junior Council, Horse and Sheep Club president, and vice-president of the Mississippi Junior Sheep Association. She has been president of MSU's collegiate chapter. She was also the secretary and newsletter editor for the Southern Regional Collegiate Organization.
"Collegiate 4-H is different from 4-H as a youth. Rather than have competitions, we do a lot more service-oriented projects that establish leadership roles," Martin said. "In college, our services are for the community as well as the county and state."
Martin said many people think 4-H is about showing animals, but there is much more to it than that. Competition areas include clothing construction, food science, horticulture, archery and wildlife.
"I've traveled all over for competitions and conferences," Martin said. "I enjoy meeting people and making friends across the country. You never know when you'll see these people again; 4-H is a good way to network."
As the new Southern Regional president, Martin is in charge of coordinating conferences like the one she is currently planning in the fall, the Southern Regional 4-H Collegiate Conference, in Texas.
Martin's love for 4-H stems from her mother's involvement in the organization. Her mother volunteered to lead a horse riding group in 4-H before Martin was old enough to join, and Martin said she always watched the group practices in hopes that she could participate one day.
"My mom always pushed me to do my best," Martin said. "Since she was our coach, I studied a lot more. She encouraged us.
"I will probably go on to be a volunteer leader because I want to influence people's lives in a positive way like my mom did in my life," Martin said. "She wanted to see us succeed, and I want to help others succeed, too."