By KCA Director Deanna Corarito
According to the 4-H Organization’s website “In 4‑H, we believe in the power of young people. We see that every child has valuable strengths and real influence to improve the world around us. We are America’s largest youth development organization—empowering nearly six million young people across the U.S. with the skills to lead for a lifetime.” The Organization also states “Kids experience 4‑H in every county and parish in the country through in-school and after-school programs, school and community clubs and 4‑H camps. 4‑H’s reach and depth are unmatched, reaching kids in every corner of America – from urban neighborhoods to suburban schoolyards to rural farming communities. Our network of 500,000 volunteers and 3,500 4‑H professionals provides caring and supportive mentoring to all 6 million 4‑H’ers, helping them grow into true leaders today and in life.”
Our local 4-H club was started in 2004 by lifelong Keystone resident Audra Skinner and is also led by Kristina Guciardo with approximately 15 kids from 3 different schools and named the Odessa Wranglers 4-H Club. The Florida 4-H clubs work through the University of Florida’s Cooperative Extension. 4-H ‘s websites says “For more than 100 years, 4‑H has welcomed young people of all beliefs and backgrounds, giving kids a voice to express who they are and how they make their lives and communities better.” Audra and Kristina are volunteers with 4-H and as stated on the 4-H website, “Volunteer leaders play a major role in 4-H programs and are the heart and soul of 4-H. They perform a variety of roles, functions and tasks to coordinate the 4-H program at the county level and come from all walks of life, bringing varied and rich experiences to the 4-H program.”
Audra Skinner recently sat down with me to share what 4-H means to our youth in Keystone. She stated that “In the past, there was a horse club here in Keystone, and I started showing cows as a kid.” She explained that she wanted more for her two boys, that she wanted them to really learn about rural life here in Keystone. What I learned from Audra is that 4-H teaches so much more. There are many youth groups in our community that perform community service as part of their mission. But what about learning a whole slew of other skills along with that service? Why not learn about photography or the arts; cooking, sewing or other home arts at the same time? 4-H offers so much more than agriculture and livestock, though that is what it is best known for.
With Keystone being a rural community, of course many of the student’s projects are agriculture or livestock based, but the students do not have to live on a farm to participate. In fact, there are some students who live in a traditional Florida neighborhood and are able to participate fully in 4-H with the “club animal.” Audra tells me that the Odessa Wranglers currently have a club pig and club lamb that will be sold at market and that is giving access to those students who do not live on acreage. The local club even has a few students from outside of Keystone. Audra and Kristina believe wholeheartedly in outreach to those who are interested and are examples of the passion that they have for the youth in the greater community.
Whatever subject the project is based on, each youth member works with a mentor on a chosen project for the school year and they work on their project as if it were a small business, so not only do they learn about livestock or photography, they also learn about the financial aspects of keeping records and the organizational aspects of their small business venture. They also learn about how to dress professionally in business attire to present their venture as well as learn confidence by speaking in front of others with the goal of presenting their completed project in exhibition. Often, the members compete with their projects at the Hillsborough County Fair, with a few elite members competing at the state level at the Florida State Fair.
I even learned about something known as ‘Leg Camp’ which is Legislative Camp. According to 4-H, members develop their “skills to debate, analyze legislation and speak publicly, all while making new friends and having a whole lot of fun. At this civic education event, you can sponsor a bill, amend, or lobby it, then debate the issues on the Capitol house and senate floors with your friends. Legislature Camp is open to 4-H youth age 13 to 18.”
When asked about the community service projects that the Odessa Wranglers 4-H have been involved with, Audra’s face lit up describing the visits to Arbor Terrace retirement community next to Sickles High School and the Christmas cards and reindeer necklaces that the members made and delivered to the residents along with candy canes. Some of the other projects they traditionally help with is the Keystone Methodist Church’s food pantry, the Day of Service at the County Fairgrounds and an annual strawberry U-pick in Plant City along with the Hillsborough County Foundation by picking strawberries which are then donated to local food banks, with the proceeds raised going to 4-H camp scholarships. One project that was impromptu occurred after Hurricane Irma with the club collecting donated foods such as take-along snacks, Gatorade and ice and dropped off to the many out of state utility workers staged at Tampa Bay Downs on Race Track Road. Meals were already being provided for the utility workers, but the take-along items were very much appreciated.
The 4-H pledge states:
I pledge my head to clearer thinking,
my heart to greater loyalty,
my hands to larger service,
and my health to better living,
for my club, my community, my country, and my world.
The Odessa Wranglers will be our featured guest speakers at our September general meeting on Thursday September 26. Social time with refreshments starts at 6:30 p.m. with our meeting to begin at 7:00 p.m. Come out and learn more about 4-H and how the Keystone community can support our local club. Our monthly meetings will be at Keystone Ranch (18404 Indiana Ave, Odessa, FL 33556 at the corner of Tarpon Springs Rd.) for the foreseeable future due to park renovations.
The 4-H club meets on the second Monday of the month in the recreation building of the Keystone United Methodist Church, 16301 Race Track Rd., Odessa FL. For more information about the Odessa Wranglers 4-H Club, contact Audra Skinner at 813-417-1259 / firstname.lastname@example.org or Kristina Guciardo at 813-824-3285 / email@example.com.