Abby Blackwell, 13, of Maple Valley, is the youngest of four in her family, but as her father Daran puts it, none of his other children had the desire to pursue community service in the way that Abby has embraced the notion of helping others.
Abby and her father were a part of a King County 4-H service project to bring the experience of Christmas in the Country to children who live in inner-city Seattle; the group of 88 parents and kids visited Winter Creek Farm just north of Enumclaw on Saturday.
In its third year, the program again welcomed the visitors from Hope Place, a recover program for women who've been affected by domestic violence, homelessness and substance abuse, said Teylar Greer, an elementary program coordinator. (read about the event last year)
Abby is one of the newest members of the Rainier Rabbits 4-H Youth Club, after seeing the group during last summer's King County Fair and expressing an interest in joining.
Of showing rabbits to the Hope Place kids, Abby said, "It's been fun. They think it's so cool to see the rabbits."
County Commits to 5-Year Support for 4-H Program
For a while, it wasn't clear if Abby would be able to join as the county 4-H program had lost its county funding for this year and were not taking new members, dad Daran said.
However, County Executive Dow Constantine had been open in his support for restoring funding to the program this year. In early fall, the County Council passed the relevant budget addendum for that funding, and word got out that 4-H was once again enrolling new members.
This past week, King County 4-H reported on its Facebook page that Constantine had signed a memorandum of agreement (MOA) with Washington State University to support King County Extension and 4-H for five years beginning in 2013.
"I'm so excited we can offer programs to people again," said WSU King County 4-H educator Nancy Baskett. 4-H can now expand its membership and grow new clubs as resources allow, she said.
She credits all the supporters of 4-H for helping to lobby lawmakers to continue supporting the program. Moving forward and beyond the five year commitment from King County, 4-H is looking to gather support not only from county government and WSU, but from various entities within King County, she said.
Though 4-H has historically been known for programs working with animals, there is much more to it, Baskett said. The agreement with the county will guide 4-H's refocusing on programs that promote STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) along with robotics and even the arts, she said. (Click here to read more about WSU and King County's 4-H Youth Development overview.)
Christmas at the Farm
With community service being a pillar of 4-H as well, a teen leadership program entitled "Teen Leaders of Tomorrow," for students in 7th grade and up was a visible presence at Winter Creek Farm Saturday as they served lunch to the visitors from Hope Place.
Though the project began with the 4-H horses club, said extension director Kevin Wright, various other clubs have since joined in the effort. Members were busy introducing the city kids to the various animals they raised and cared for, including dogs, horses and goats, to the delight of Gennique Jones and her three children.
"My kids have never seen horses," Jones said. "My son is afraid of ants, but today he rode a horse!"
Winter Creek Farm is owned by Cindy and Scott Borland, whose daughter was in the 4-H horse program for 12 years. "We felt there were important things that 4-H could teach her about horses that we couldn't," Cindy said.
For the last two years, the Borlands took the opportunity to give back to 4-H when after the first 'Christmas at the Farm,' the event needed a new location, so they offered their property. "I thought, 'we just have to do it,'" Cindy said. "It's fun, and it's so wonderful to see the kids have a good time."
Jones said she was appreciative. "It's very warming and touching that they'd offer their home and their barn for us," she said.
Meanwhile, during a lull in visitors to her table as she watched her rabbit Cinnamon resting in a basket, Abby reflected on what she loves best about 4-H: "being able to be with my rabbit and learn about rabbits."
Dad Daran gives his daughter more credit: Abby is expanding her ability to fulfill her need to help others through 4-H, he said. This winter, she took money earned from selling her mother's homemade soaps and donated it to Treehouse for Kids, serving foster children and parents.
She's a Girl Scout too, which means a lot of parental involvment as well -- not the least of which is giving her daughter rides to and from events. But it's worth it. "Anything helping with community service, doing things for people who don't have, it's always worthwhile," he said.
"We're up, recruiting and growing and we're open for business," Baskett said.
However, "to meet the needs of people who want to join, we need community volunteers."
For those interesting in enrolling or in volunteering to start up a club, you can contact Baskett at 253-224-2884 or firstname.lastname@example.org.