4-H Fix: My Hands to Larger Service

My Hands to Larger Service

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

We each remember stuff, I assume, from our childhoods. I do, at least. I’m not talking about the great big things like the day you fell face-first into the birthday cake or that wedding where you learned how to do the Polka or that time you got soaked at the water park. I’m talking about those little things like that feeling you get in the pit of your stomach when you know you’ve just been caught in a lie or the feeling of glee when you realize your BROTHER has just been caught in a lie! That feeling of, well, warmth that comes over you when your mom’s eyes tear up as she opens that special present you made for her for Mother’s Day or that moment of pleasure that hits you upon hearing your dad chuckle over a joke you just told. Memories like those, I mean.

One such memory I’m a bit ashamed of is that stomach burn I’d get when mom or dad would give me a chore to do like weed the garden or dust the shelves or clean my room. These are things I should have been doing; I just didn’t want to. Me!? Do WORK!?

It wasn’t that I was lazy; okay, it was. It seems most kids are. Okay, not “lazy” REALLY but, knowing what I now know about young people, I think most young people tend not to want to do such things. Video games, or watching cartoons on TV in my day, are much more fun than pulling weeds from around the tomato plants or running a dust cloth over some old books on a shelf! Unless you find a spider to chase — just saying.

"my HANDS to larger service"So what genius was it that thought up the idea to ask 4-H Members to do Community Service!? Same thing. Bigger context. Me!? Do WORK!? Well, whoever that genius was, he or she certainly WAS a genius. Years of 4-H Community Service projects by millions of 4-H’ers — even a line in the 4‑H pledge (“My hands to larger service”) — attest to that!

4-H’ers across the country, happily or not, spread out through their communities every day to do good deeds and be helpful! They conduct clothing drives for the homeless, paint barns at the local fairgrounds, clean up litter at the local park, etc., etc., etc. Kids, working, doing community chores, burning stomachs or not!

grave at Forgotten Cemeteries Clean-up Project”And Maine 4-H’ers are no different. Had you heard about the “Forgotten Cemeteries Clean-up Project” conducted by the Pittston Pony Tails 4-H Club? They started it in October of 2001.

We cleaned up the Lapham Family cemetery on top of a hill overlooking the Kennebec River in Pittston. The children raked up old leaves and cleaned up stones and helped map the gravesites of the loved ones buried in this old cemetery. Adult volunteers had to cut down several old, dead trees to gain access into the yard. We also placed American flags at the opening of the yard to symbolize the presence of War Vets in this site. — Cheryl Peaslee, Club Leader.

4-H'ers clean up graves as part of the Forgotten Cemeteries Clean-up Project”Then they went on to do like-wise at two more “forgotten cemeteries” earning the honor of being named one of Pittston’s “Unsung Heroes” by the Pittston Spirit of America Committee. The Pittston Selectmen, in a hand-written note, said that Cheryl and the Pony Tails 4‑H Club “deserve every recognition possible.”

Timmy Clemetson works on a project
Timmy Clemetson

Then there is Timmy Clemetson who, in 2015, helped build raised gardens for the residents of Belfast’s Edward Reynolds House and Houlton’s Kate Newman who cooked up a way to help feed a whole community, once a month, from October through April, and did so again this year (2016-17), FOURTH year running!

Kate Newman
Kate Newman

And, of course, there are many, many, similar stories! The question is, in addition to Timmy and Kate, what other recent community service projects have Maine 4‑H’ers been doing?

Well, we did a survey last fall to try to find that out. The survey request was a little late, something new added to already too-full “to do” lists, so not everyone was able to get the survey completed. We are sure we did not get reported even half of what was done. Still the information rolled in. And even knowing what we thought we already knew, the results, partial as they were, were astounding!

Projects reported via this survey included improving fairgrounds, providing assistance to local shelters, improving community nutrition through community gardens, planting flowers at the rec center, clothing drives for needy families, children and teen mentoring, donations of blankets to Veterans homes, food to food banks, increasing civic pride through community parade participation, literacy campaigns, and dressing up cemeteries by cleaning and placing US Flags on graves before Memorial and Veterans Days.

Clubs reporting service projects in 2016 indicated that although a few took as long as 300 or more hours to complete, half of all the projects reported took less than ten hours to complete, some as short as only one hour! Thirty-three percent of the reported projects spent $50 or less to complete, some nothing at all, yet hundreds of people were reported as having been helped in some manner.

In addition to the communities and individual lives being improved, the 4-H’ers, themselves, according to the survey results, found benefit, and FUN, in doing this work. Growth experienced by the 4-H’ers that was reported included: organizational skills, leadership helping younger children with service tasks, time management, critical thinking skills, learning to be responsible, willingness to help others with nothing expected in return, planning skills, decision making skills, empathy, and a sense of pride.

Comments received included:

  • “They continually want to help others.”
  • “Because of the work with cemeteries they are now very interested in their ancestors.”
  • “I think that we all had a lot of fun and enjoyed helping make the fairgrounds look better. With every project we do we learn more about why community service is important.”
  • “The youth had a great time sharing what 4-H is to them.”

You know, reading over those reports, well, it made me happy, like that time my dad chuckled over one of my jokes; and warm, you know, like that time my mom’s eyes teared up as she opened that special present I made for her for Mother’s Day.

Just a bunch of lazy kids? Not Maine’s 4-H’ers!

Has your club done a 4-H Community Service Project lately? Why not send us a note and tell us about it? If you do you might just end up in a 4-H Fix!

For the next The 4-H Fix we offer an end and a beginning! Find out what that is all about on August 18!

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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.