Strutting Their Stuff

The Puyallup Fair is “show and tell” time for 3,500 young 4-H participants statewide.

The Fair is their opportunity to tell you what they’ve learned, “to strut their stuff.” With attendance topping 1.2 this year, the fair is the fifth largest in the country.

If you are a visitor, stop by the livestock pavilion and learn about animal science projects. Catch the horsemanship and barrel racing activities in the covered arena. Slip quietly into the “cat barn” so not to wake “Milo,” ‘Luigi,” “Mario,” and “Theo.” This popular venue attracts nearly 150 cats.

Sample Jennifer Chesley’s apple spice cake fresh out of the oven in the demonstration kitchen. “Almost everything I do is a 4-H project,” says the bubbly 17-year-old with hair pulled back into a ponytail. The eldest of seven children raises goats and pigs on the family’s two acres near Kennewick. At the fair, she also modeled a ‘70s formal dress she made.

Walk over to the 30-foot high climbing wall, where 4-Hers test their wits–and wills. “The challenge has a lot of parallels to life for young people. Sometimes things look up hill, insurmountable. But if you take it one step at a time, you can get there,” said Betsy Fradd, Youth Connections Coordinator for 4-H Youth Development. 4-H headquarters are at the Puyallup Research & Extension Center.

“We don’t look at what is wrong with young people, but what is right,” says Pat BoyEs, state 4-H director for youth development. “We emphasize their strengths and how they can capitalize on those strengths.”

The Washington State 4-H Fair is a showcase for all the life skills 4-H emphasizes –citizenship, teamwork, communication, wise decision-making, and goal setting, among others.

4-H’s philosophy is “Learn by doing,” whether the project is cows, computers or karate. There’s also an expectation that 4-Hers share their knowledge. That was the case in Sunday afternoon presentations that included: How to adopt a wild horse, deliver a goat, or build a garden lantern out of chicken wire.

“In all our evaluations the first thing we do is give some positive feedback,” said longtime adult volunteer Marguerite Long of Auburn. Her husband Bob added, “We have 100 ways to say you did a good job.” They were impressed by a dog training demonstration, as well as a young girl’s presentation on famed World War II pilot and hero Jimmy Doolittle.

While animals are still a big part of 4-H, the Know Your Government Conference, science camp, and leadership and technology clubs are attracting increased participation. So has the 4-H Service Dog Project, where 4-Hers help train puppies for later use as guide dogs for the blind or hearing impaired.

Awarding ribbons has long been a 4-H tradition at fairs. “We don’t judge the children against each other; it is the product they bring,” said BoyEs. “How close is it to meeting the standard. As one skill level is attained, participants are expected to seek the next level of excellence.”

Carol Hagan of Clarkston has been a 4-H volunteer for 16 years. She headed up the state’s Centennial Quilt Project, as well as submitted quilt blocks for the national quilt being displayed in Washington, D.C. as part of 4-H’s year-long centennial celebration. Her own children are now 27 and 28, but her interest in 4-H hasn’t waned. “When you get involved in a successful program like this,” she said, “it’s hard to walk away.”