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4-H Leaders Help Their Communities
At a time when some people are concerned that kids may not be ready to learn about leadership, Lezlie Elmer and Kimberly Walker are two young 4-H women who are already exercising it.

Lezlie Born into 4-H
“I was born into 4-H,” says Lezlie Elmer, a 17-year old senior at Potter Valley High School. “Both my parents are 4-H leaders, and my older brother a member from the time he was old enough to join.” Lezlie herself became active when she was a nine-year-old 4th grader.

“At that time, I worked with rabbits and swine, and I did cooking and sewing, spinning wool and arts and crafts.” Lezlie also learned communication skills. You don’t have to have much of a conversation with her to know that she is accomplished at formulating and expressing herself with clarity and conviction.

Many of us think of 4-H as a group that teaches kids to do things individually—and it does. Those healthy and well-cared for animals we see at North Coast fairs demonstrate the hard work that the youngsters put into raising their animals, hours spent feeding and tending to their furry and feathered charges. But Lezlie’s example points to another aspect of 4-H that is just as important, which is kids working together as a team to improve their communities.

Community Service
Lezlie remembers some of the community service projects that got her started thinking about how 4-Hers could make things better for people in her own community. “One year, we made valentines for people in the hospital, and then we delivered them,” she recalls. “Then we made Christmas stockings and collected toys for boys who lived in foster care homes. We focused on teenage boys, because we realized that they were the kids who didn’t get many gifts and needed them the most. We also did an ‘adopt-a-family’ project where we got toy donations, wrapped and delivered them to families who couldn’t afford to buy them for their children.”

“We break up into little groups to come up with ideas, when it comes to developing new projects. We had hoped to work on one each month, but decided that was too much, so we decided to concentrate on fewer of them,” Lezlie says. One of these projects that requires lots of time, energy and coordination among 4-H team members is the Eel River cleanup project. “That’s one that we do as a group in October of every year,” she says.

When one of the local 4-H adult leaders was diagnosed with cancer more than a year ago, Lezlie and her chapter members decided to develop a project that would improve cancer awareness and help individual cancer patients. “We focused on lung cancer awareness and started a project to help kids learn about prevention, including tobacco use and sun exposure. A lady from the American Cancer Society came to our group and talked to us about it.

“After that, we worked with the Cancer Resource Center and went to cancer patients’ homes and helped out with little things like gardening and housework. We also help with the American Cancer Society on the Relay-for-Life, where we start in February to get sponsors for the event in June.” As a result of their efforts, the Potter Valley 4-H was able to apply for the statewide 4-H Golden Clover Award for 2007-08.

This year, Lezlie is president of the Potter Valley 4-H, is on the California State Ambassador Team, and is one of seven state team members chosen to attend the national conference in Washington, D.C. this spring. There, she will share ideas with other 4-H leaders on how to build and strengthen local and state chapters. Lezlie attended the state conference at U.C. Davis last August, where she helped set up a statewide 4-H community service project to collect teddy bears for foster children. She also attended the Cal Focus Conference in Sacramento last year, where 4-Hers about state government and how to lead.

“The conferences are where I’ve made friends with other 4-H people from around the state. Two years ago, I met a girl from San Luis Obispo, and we stay in touch by e-mail and on the phone. We share a lot of our ideas and experiences,” Lezlie says. Among her other accomplishments are winning the state championship in advanced clothing construction.

Just as important to Lezlie is leadership in helping younger kids with their projects. Her experience enabled her to help three of them in the swine group show their animals at the fairs. “I was able to help them get ready to show, and to put together letters for prospective buyers. Kids who haven’t written them before often need a lot of help with that,” she says. In her spare time, Lezlie plays soccer, basketball, and baseball at PVHS (where she is also secretary-treasures of her class), volunteers in a kindergarten class as she has done for four years, and takes ballroom dancing at Mendocino College. After she graduates in June, Lezlie hopes to continue full-time at the college or attend Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo.

Kimberly and Special Needs Kids
Kimberly Walker of Lower Lake has taken an active interest in developing a community service project that is unique and valuable to special needs kids. This 16-year old has been home-schooled all her life by parents Jill and Rick Walker, who have ample reason to be proud of what she had accomplished.

“Last March, Susie Wiloth came to our 4-H meeting and explained what she is doing at her ranch. I thought about it, and decided that I wanted to work with her. So, I volunteered and that’s how I got started with my All-Star Project.” By the time summer came around, Kimberly was an old hand at working with horses and special needs kids.

Susie’s ranch is a place that provides therapy for horses and for special needs children. Most of the horses at Wiloth Equine Therapy and Riding Center were donated by their owners. These horses have a variety of physical problems, some of them quite serious. “Before I started working with Susie, I didn’t know much about horses, but now I know a lot,” says Kimberly. She was able to use the experience she had gained in 4-H to help make the one-week camp experience a richer one for special needs kids. “Right away, I could see how much the kids enjoyed working with the horses,” says Kimberly. “I saw that the kids were so capable, and realized most of them didn’t have that much opportunity to do things like that.”

Kimberly found herself in the middle of an enthusiastic group of campers eager to learn about horses and the citizenship skills she had learned. “We had kids from nearby in Lake County and Ukiah, and as far away as Vallejo and Napa,” she says. “I had talked to Susie about 4-H, and we realized that we could continue with the kids after the week of summer camp was over.” So, Kimberly began organizing a 4-H chapter specifically for the special need kids who attend the Wiloth Ranch horse rehabilitation program.

“At first, I thought there would be 15 or so kids, but it turned out to be 30. Their siblings and parents are so enthusiastic about what the kids are doing, too. One of the best things was at our last meeting when the kids got their 4-H uniforms. They were so excited. It’s cool to be able to teach them and work with them.”

A Life in 4-H
Kimberly is now in her eighth year in 4-H. With both her parents 4-H adult leaders, she started arts and crafts projects when she was a nine-year old and has been active every since. “I like taking animals to the fair, and showed rabbits for four our five years. But I also liked helping other kids with their animals. I’ve worked with sheep, and everything from guinea pigs to steers.”

“My parents are a huge inspiration. From my dad, I learned about shooting sports and I’m a team leader in that. I’m also president of my club and I went to the Cal Focus conference in Sacramento and to the leadership conference at UC Davis. At achievement night I listened to a girl—who had achievement pins all over her hat—talk about the importance of helping other people. She was funny and everyone liked her. I told myself, ‘I want to be that girl!’” As far as the special needs kids and their families are concerned, Kimberly Walker already is that girl. 

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