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Where Are They Now? — Sarah Stoodley

By Ron Drum, Statewide 4-H Program Professional/Associate Director 4-H Resource Development

Sarah Stoodley in a dance pose

Sarah Stoodley. Photo by Travis Curry (traviscurry.com).

I’ve often heard it said that you must keep on your toes if you are to be successful. I’ve also heard it said that extremely successful people keep us on our toes! I suppose both could be true. I KNOW both are true when speaking of Maine 4-H Alum Sarah Pickering Stoodley, RD, LN.

I’ve been a youth development professional as long as Sarah has been alive. You might say we both started, one way or another, in 1979. That was the year Sarah’s mom brought her home from the hospital to their farm in Unity and that was the year, on the day after I received my Bachelor’s Degree from Penn State, that I began my professional career (my first job was as a Citizenship Washington Focus Program Assistant at National 4‑H Council in Washington, D.C.).

In the 38 years since, I’ve met, worked with, and gotten to know — well I don’t even know how many young people. Let’s just say “lots.” When you do what I do, you begin to detect a certain something in certain people that sets them apart somehow, marks the person for success. One might call it an “IT Factor”! I’m not sure what that “it” is but, as they say, I know it when I see it.

And I saw it in Sarah Stoodley. What is interesting about this story, however, is not only what I saw in Sarah, but what I FAILED to see in Sarah as well! I’ll explain what that was in just a bit.

Sarah Stoodley

Sarah Stoodley, Maine delegate to National 4-H Conference, 1997.

I’m not actually certain any longer when, or how, I first met Sarah. She might remember but I’d be surprised if she did. Our paths may have crossed at a state 4-H event such as 4-H Visual Presentations or perhaps it was when she was showing 4‑H Goats at a fair or was a member of Maine’s Eastern States Exposition 4-H Goat Team. Certainly I met her before she interviewed to be a member of the 1995 Maine delegation to National 4-H Congress. I’m sure I would have met her before she became Waldo County’s representative on the State 4-H Teen Council. Sarah served on the State 4-H Teen Council 1995 and 1996 and then, because she represented Maine at National 4-H Conference in 1997, was appointed for another two years, 1997 and 1998, serving on the Council as a State 4-H Ambassador.

Whenever it was we first met, I’m glad we did!

Sarah joined 4-H in 1985. She was six years old when she joined the Country Kids 4-H Club of Unity. She was interested in all sorts of things but settled on horses and photography as her 4-H projects her first two years. She quickly moved to raising and showing 4-H Goats for her primary project in 1987 and stuck with Goats for the rest of her 4-H career. It even became newsworthy!

In fact, readers of the Waldo Independent, in the November 7, 1996 edition, saw a photo of Sarah hugging one of her goats! The December 22, 1996 edition of the Central Maine Newspapers, in the Maine People section, included another goat-hugging photo of Sarah! Obviously, Sarah enjoyed her goats! However, somehow, goats led Sarah to dogs and 4-H Dogs became a highlight, in addition to those goats, right up until she “graduated” from 4-H in 1998 and even unto today.

Sarah Stoodley's 3 dogs

Ria, Peri, and Jubilee

In a recent message, Sarah told me, “I have three dogs that I show in various sports. Jubilee is the highest pointed French Bulldog in NAFA flyball (with over 20K points and her ONYX title). And Peri is running in the highest level of AKC agility and working on her championship title. Ria, the whippet mix, suffered a terrible leg fracture last year and is working on rehabbing it to be strong enough to play some sports again.”

In this, as in most everything she tackles, Sarah exceled, even making a bit of a “stir” in 2008 in the show dog community. Apparently one doesn’t usually do active type events when showing French Bulldogs of which Jubilee is one. Yet, here is a video of Sarah and Jubilee performing during a show in 2008 when she made that “stir” I mentioned. According to the Bullmarket FrogDog Blog of August 11, 2008,

You have to have owned and trained French Bulldogs to realize just how unusual this is, and why it created such a stir in Frenchie circles. The dogs we love are a lot of things — funny, goofy and cute — but agile and athletic isn’t usually up there when they’re being described. It would take a special kind of person to decide to dance with a French Bulldog, and that’s just what Sarah is.

Let me repeat that, “It would take a special kind of person…and that’s just what Sarah is.

I agree. In a reference I wrote for her in 1998 I was asked to describe Sarah in three words. I chose: intelligent, creative, and exciting. Then I went on to say, “She has the ability, personality, energy, and experience. She is the full package. I have never recommended a person for a position as highly as I recommend Sarah to you.”

A “special kind of person” for sure!

But what this blog author may not have known was that Sarah could probably dance beautifully with ANYTHING! Keeping on her toes seems to be second nature for Sarah. She was dancing as a member of the Robinson Ballet Company (RBC) in Bangor long before she met me! By age 17, she was teaching dance to children and adults at several studios in the region. The Bangor Daily News, as part of an article about her that ran in December of 1996, included a photo of Sarah teaching ballet at the Thomas School of Dance in Bangor. The photo caption read, “Sarah Stoodley raises goats, makes herb and spice-scented goat’s milk soap, and spends six days a week in the dance studio.” To read the article and see the photo go to: “Selling the New 4-H” (page 27).

In fact, that Waldo Independent article I mentioned, in addition to the goat-hugging shot, also included a photo of Sarah with some of that “herb and spice-scented goat’s milk soap.” Why soap? According to Sarah, “My sister (Gillian) and I had a booth for one day at the Common Ground Fair. We took 450 bars and we sold out.” She also sold the soap at craft fairs and the Unity Co-op. Sarah referred to the soap sales as “a tremendous success.”

When talking about this “herb and spice-scented goat’s milk soap” recently, Sarah added, “You know, Mom is actually still making it!” (“Mom” being long time Maine 4-H Volunteer Judy Stoodley). I greatly enjoyed working with Judy when I was here in the ’90s. She was one of the prime movers behind the addition of the 4-H Dog commodity to the Maine 4-H Animal Science Committees and the addition of a 4-H dog show at the Eastern States Exposition! So that’s where Sarah’s dog interest comes from. That makes sense.

And, about that dance thing. Around the time she joined 4‑H, she started dancing. The above mentioned Waldo Independent article says that as of 1996 she’d been dancing for 10 years, eight of those included the Robinson Ballet’s annual performances of “The Nutcracker Suite.” The article quotes Sarah saying, “I started out doing the children’s parts when I was nine. I’ve worked my way up through the ranks. Last year (1995) and this year (1996) I’ve been the Snow Queen.” She also performed the role of the Arabian soloist. And during the 1998 Maine 4-H Teen Conference Sarah taught the conference attendees a few steps with her workshop called “Everybody Dance Now!”

4-H "Are you into it?" ad campaignBy now you are probably wondering why there were so many articles about Sarah in the newspapers of 1996. It was because she was selected out of 80 applicants from across the country that fall to be one of fifteen 4‑H’ers to be a member of National 4-H Council’s “Youth Voices and Action Design Team.” Those fifteen young people met with national marketing executives in New York City and, working with National 4-H Council and USDA 4-H National Headquarters staff, contributed ideas and direction to what became the “4-H, Are you into it?” ad campaign. That campaign was a highly successful 4-H ad campaign in 1997 and 1998. According to the National 4-H History Preservation website, that campaign “ranked in the top five of all Ad Council campaigns in 1998, earning $64.1 million in estimated donated media placement.” All that from a team of 4-H’ers, one of whom, being Sarah. Sarah described it as, “That’s what I want the ads to show, that 4-H gives you a chance to do a lot of things.”

And then she “graduated” out of 4-H — out of 4-H and into a National 4-H Council Marketing Internship! She spent a year living in Warren Hall at the National 4-H Center and working with Christie Phillips, Council’s Marketing Vice President at the time. Although marketing seemed to be a possible direction for Sarah’s future, what with publicizing the state 4-H Teen Conference, selling her 4-H soap, and helping to create an extraordinarily successful national marketing campaign, dance was never out of the picture. “I actually started dancing for Doug Yeuell (director of Jazzdanz, DC) when I was here for my National 4‑H Council Marketing internship,” explained Sarah.

That’s Douglas Yeuell, as in Executive/Artistic Director for the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. THAT Doug Yeuell. “He was the reason I came back to this area (in 2002),” she added.

In 2002 she found herself living in Silver Spring, MD, again dancing and teaching dance. “I taught at the Joy of Motion Dance Center in Bethesda, MD and danced in Jazzdanz, DC and CrossCurrents Dance Company.

“I danced and taught professionally until about 7 years ago,” she told me, “then decided to go to school for nutrition.” A change from dance to nutrition intrigued me so I asked Sarah why she made such a change. And that is when I learned about the piece of Sarah that I had missed. In all that I outwardly saw in Sarah, inwardly she was, beginning as a teen, secretly struggling — literally fighting for her life. As a teenaged dancer, Sarah became very conscious of her body and body image, so much so that she developed an eating disorder. From her teenage years through her twenties she waged a battle with herself that; had she lost the fight, we would have lost her. Her fight continues yet today.

It developed when I was a teenager and had enough negative life impact by my mid-20s that I chose to seek treatment. My preoccupation with food and weight, and controlling what and how I ate, was impacting my life in a huge way. I’ve been through two rounds of treatment and recovery, one in the early 2000s and again around 2010. There is debate in eating disorders whether you are in recovery or are recovered and I think it can go either way. I feel very stable and “recovered” most days, but work hard to stay aware of my needs as things can change day to day.

So she turned from Dance to Nutrition.

Nutrition was something I picked as a career after my own battle with my eating disorder. The first dietitian I really got to know was the one who helped me put my life together two separate times. Her name is Faye Berger Mitchell and she is an amazing lady and a true inspiration to me. I have been through multiple rounds of ED treatment, including spending months out of work to focus my energy on my health and well-being. I feel like my struggles really allow me to practice nutrition in a compassionate and understanding way.

While Sarah explained the situation to me, that “IT Factor” I had seen in the teenaged Sarah, made its presence known again!

I want to be the food cheerleader and not the food police. Food is something that should be enjoyed and not a battle. I am so thankful to have come through my struggle in one piece and to be able to work in a field that really speaks to me. I have had endless support of family, friends, and professionals, and try to share my story to help people understand that needing help is not something to be ashamed of and not something that diminishes one’s value as a person. Everyone deserves recovery!

She is a good food cheerleader. In one message I kiddingly told her that I had thought of her as I ate some broccoli for dinner and she responded, “Broccoli is great :)!”

Starting at Montgomery Community College and then transferring to the University of Maryland Dietetics program, Sarah earned her Bachelor of Science in Nutrition and Dietetics in 2011. She then began her internship through the Iowa State University, completing that in June, 2016. In the meantime, either as part of her internship or just to help make ends meet, she gained experience at jobs with Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring; for the WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) program in Wheaton, Maryland; and in various community and clinical settings in her internship. Most recently she was at Frederick Memorial Hospital supervising all aspects of patient services meal service as part of the management team in the kitchen.

Then on Oct 21, 2016 she sent me this note: “I just passed my RD (Registered Dietitian) exam this afternoon so now I can do things beyond study.”

As of December, 2016, holding the title of Registered Dietitian with Unidine, she is serving as a Clinical Dietitian at Sanctuary at Holy Cross, a Rehabilitation and Senior Care facility in Burtonsville, MD.

“I’m still in this area (northern Silver Spring), but often think about moving somewhere less busy; …I do seem to move further and further into the suburbs here. Let’s see, my family is well. My parents are still in Unity. No farm animals any more, but my mom still has dogs. Gillian spent four years teaching English in Japan after college, then came home and got her Master’s in ESL. She’s actually been in this area a few years now and lives just down the street.”

BTW, that’s registered dietitian (with a “T”), as opposed to “dietician” (with a “C”), like I originally typed, before Sarah correctly corrected me. As she put it, “RDs are funny about the C, though that does come up as a viable spelling. The LN equals licensed nutritionist (I’m licensed to practice in the state of MD).”

Ad for dance show "Reflections," Saturday Sep 17And, as previously stated, dance is never far away. “I returned home in September (2016) to dance for RBC in a 40 year anniversary celebration called ‘Reflections.’ I danced with childhood friends, some were best friends who I see often and others were friends I had not seen in 20 years. It was a very special experience.”

Reflecting on her years in 4-H and what they’ve meant to her, she said,

It gave me countless opportunities that helped me pave the way for my future. It also helped me understand that I could accomplish many things if I just worked hard. I was taught responsibility, how hard work could pay off, that keeping records may be extremely tedious but that those tedious records would be useful in many ways. I got to go on trips around the country, and to feel like my voice was valued and that I was special and had something to offer. And I got to see and experience all sides of 4-H. I was one of those typical 4‑H farm kids showing goats and dogs, but I also was successful in projects like dance and quilting. I went on trips all over the country and got to see the inside of a prestigious marketing firm in Manhattan. The depth and breadth of what 4-H has to offer really is amazing.

Then she summed it all up, saying, “4-H allows you to choose your own path, even to forge a path if one does not yet exist. 4-H is a special program.”

What a nice compliment! You know you really must BE special if you are called “special” by a “special kind of person” like Sarah.

Sarah Pickering Stoodley, RD, LN, Dancer, French Bulldog Trainer and Dance Companion, Goat Whisperer, teacher, leader, my friend, Maine 4‑H Alum.

Return to the 4-H Fix on May 26 to read about Hazel Goodwin, a Maine 4-H alum who made so good she just became Maine’s newest 4-H Salute to Excellence Lifetime Achievement Award Honoree! It’s a story of a lifetime!

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University of Maine Cooperative Extension conducts the state’s most successful out-of-school youth educational program through 4-H, a positive youth development program that has been empowering young people in Maine to reach their full potential since 1913.

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