Being an officer in a 4-H club is an educational experience. It provides young people with not only the opportunity to learn parliamentary procedure, but also to speak before others, organize a meeting and work together as a team.
Farm men and women often find themselves, in later years, serving on boards and working with others on common goals related to agriculture.
Previous experience in 4-H is often credited for building their confidence to serve in leadership positions.
Secretary of Agriculture Ben Brancel credits 4-H for opening his eyes to other opportunities in the world of agriculture. Through 4-H he participated in Citizenship Short Course in Washington DC, something that helped him realize the role ordinary citizens can play in influencing things that go on in government.
Neil Kline from Polk County served a year as president of the Wisconsin Youth Leader Council.
He says 4-H has made a big difference in his life, noting, "Before joining 4-H I didn't know how to lead. Sure, I could give orders, but there is a difference between leading and ordering."
Kline says being elected president of his local club was the most thrilling thing that had happened to him and it provided the opportunity to attend training meetings and leadership conferences.
"It taught me the power of combined effort, the power of working with others, and the power of youth," he says. "Another thing I have also learned is that 4-H makes you a team player, and an individualist, at the same time."
Kline says, "This is the amazing thing that 4-H does for the individual. It broadens their world. It opens doors that people never thought were there. Everything from math to politics to fine arts is available through 4-H."
He goes on to say that once those doors are opened, 4-H empowers young people to practice leadership by improving their now broadened world and community.
Kline says examples of this collaboration are evident all around the state.
He notes, "Whether it's robotics in one county or agriculture in another, the same lessons are learned: leadership and teamwork."
As the new 4-H year begins, youth around the state are taking new offices in their clubs.
During a recent workshop in Juneau, Katie Lesperance told the recently chosen officers of Dodge County's 24 4-H clubs, "Whether you were elected, appointed or if you volunteered for your position, you are a part of a team that leads the club. Being an officer is a privilege but it does come with responsibilities."
Lesperance, a former Dodge County Fairest of the Fair and former 4-H summer agent, says she can't remember when she was not involved with 4-H in one way or another.
She points out, "Without officers, your club could not function. But you are not alone. You are a part of a team."
Like other 4-H activities, serving as an officer is an educational experience that helps young people as they go through life.
While the dictionary defines the word "team" as a noun meaning a group of players on one side in a competition she says, "I like the 'verb' definition of the word better because it states, 'coming together as a team to achieve a common goal.' You have a common goal of keeping your club running smoothly. You are not competing with each other or with other clubs. You are a part of the bigger 4-H program."
Lesperance further describes team work as a combined action to be efficient and effective. To do that, a newly elected officer needs to look to the other officers of the club and begin to think of them as a part of a unit.
Some of the young people attending the training session have never served in office before. Others have held offices but perhaps are taking on a new position on the officer team.
She points out, "Each officer has an individual job on the team but coming together as an officer team is important."
Lesperance led an activity by which the participants of each officer team linked together twine in a way that, as a group, they were able to use it to carry a ball across the floor in the meeting room.
The 4-Hers had fun trying to determine the best way to accomplish the task and then shared comments about how they achieved the feat.
The 4-Hers said they began by communicating ideas among the team and then putting these ideas into action as they wove the strings together. Most of the teams tied the string around the ball as a means of minimizing the possibility of failure as they carried the ball.
Everyone on the team held on to a piece of the string as they moved across the room, illustrating the importance of including the entire team in the action.
Adult 4-H leaders in attendance assisted in the planning but were not involved in carrying the ball.
One team finished later than all the other teams but commented that before they began they listened to the suggestions of every officer on how to accomplish the task and then put the best idea or combination of ideas into action.
Lesperance said, "Yes, it took them longer but that's okay. They drew out ideas from everyone on the team. It's important to involve everyone."