Sunday, March 28, 2010

Why I Volunteer for 4-H and Brownies

From time to time, when I'm driving home from a Pampered Chef team meeting at 11:30PM, and I'm dead tired, I wonder if it’s worth it. Pulling clothes from my laundry basket and folding them into my suitcase on Sunday nights, I ask myself what I'm doing. I'm always on the go. My dad fondly calls me the 'roadrunner' when I pull into the farm for a 'weekend', which is usually more of a detour between destinations.

However, zipping myself into my sleeping bag on a hard, church floor, next to a room with 24 little girls doesn't make me bat an eyelash and when I race off to meetings without dinner, I never think twice. Undeniably, I would give even more of my time to Brownies and 4-H, if I had more hours in my day.

For the first time in my professional career, I am running for a non-profit board of directors. Specifically, I'm campaigning for Director on the Canadian 4-H Council. While completing the nomination application, I found myself giving more thought to why I volunteer. What makes me feel so strongly about 4-H? What is it about Brownies?

Certainly, I am compelled to give back to these organizations. But all charities are compelling, so what is behind my passion for these two youth organizations.
As a Brownie and Girl Guide, I never appreciated the lessons learned from weekend camping trips, hiking the Bruce Trail to explore the creatures in our backyard, or singing silly songs around an indoor campfire. As a Guider today, I find myself trying to recreate those experiences for my Brownies. Opportunities to deliver a "wow" factor, but also set them up with some basic skills and knowledge about the world around them. In my heart, I feel like I've let the girls down if I don't deliver this.
As a 4-H member, I expanded on some basics I learned in Brownies, but it was, more importantly, the vehicle through which I developed 'soft skills'. Communication, teamwork, leadership, patience and dedication; all nurtured through years of club executives, planning events, guiding younger members, speaking in front of strangers and taking an animal, twice my size, from wild to mild over the course of a couple months of hard work. Some opportunities were routine requirements, others came with possible reward: prizes at the local fair, scholarships, or the ultimate achievement, success at the Royal Winter Fair.

Twelve years in the 4-H program allowed me to mature significantly and I recognized what I was gaining from the program along the way. I realized as a teenager at Leadership Camp, the major role 4-H was playing in shaping the person I hoped one day to become. With new-found self-confidence, I left camp ready to tackle the everyday challenges of being a teenager by trying to look past the day-to-day and keeping my long-term goals in mind.

I appreciate this even more today. Moving to a new city in a region with its own challenges, I've met people I wished could have had a similar opportunity in their life. I am understanding how lucky I was to be involved in a program that encourages being yourself and sets you up to develop the tools needed to succeed.

Gaining a lot from the program, I do feel overwhelmingly compelled to 'give back'. Not so much because I think I owe the program, because what I got out of 4-H is exactly what 4-H wants for its members. Moreover, I want other youth to have the opportunities I did, and I want their lives to be changed for the better also. I want them to succeed and have no fear to go after their goals.

In a way, I guess I'm still giving back, but I don't think of it that way. I'm more concerned with the Brownies and 4-H members leaving with an experience that will stay with them forever. I want them to look back with fond memories and the realization they developed the base of their most important life skills though these programs. If they never remember me, but only the experiences and benefits of being involved, then I will feel I've done my part.

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