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More than a banner

by Marlene Eick 

A few years ago, B.J. and I mentored three young people in our community who were all exhibiting market hogs for the first time. It was a fantastic experience for everyone, including us. I loved observing the transformation that took place over the summer. Sure, the kids learned about nutrition, care, handling and housing, but what I enjoyed most was witnessing the changes that happened with these young people over the course of the project. Self-esteem, confidence and responsibility only begin the list of areas in which improvements were visible.

I really enjoy working with young people and I also appreciate the personal development opportunities associated with youth livestock projects. I’m always looking for ways to serve at the intersection of these two personal passions. I enjoy connecting industry supporters with FFA programs through my role with the Ohio FFA Foundation’s Sponsors Team and currently I’m serving as chair of the Ohio Pork Council’s Showpig Committee, which has helped create the new OH-PIGS (Pigs Influencing Great Sportsmanship) program for youth in Ohio. In 2016, OH-PIGS is on track to include more than a dozen jackpot shows around the state.

At any livestock show, only a handful of exhibitors leave with banners, but every young person leaves with a valuable set of skills that will be transferred to their academics, community projects and eventually, their careers. Through their experiences, they also prepare themselves for a lifetime of increased awareness of agricultural issues and the ability to advocate, on behalf of the industry, to the folks they encounter in their everyday lives no matter how far their lives may lead them away from the show ring. These students may not go on to work and live in agriculture, but these experiences will live with them forever, and done right, they will forever advocate for our industry.

My challenge for you is to consider what you could do to support youth livestock exhibitors in a bigger way in the coming year. Could you mentor a young person in your local community? Will you volunteer as a 4-H Skillathon facilitator in your county? Can you support the local Jr. Fair auction? Perhaps you could volunteer at a jackpot show hosted in your county.

Maybe you’re ready for the next step and will contact a state commodity group about getting involved in the state programs. Maybe someday you’ll support a state 4-H or FFA award program. If nothing else, will you promise me you’ll cheer on the local 4-H and FFA members at your county fair’s junior livestock shows and congratulate them on their hard work? After all, those young people are the next generation of leaders and they’re laying the foundation right now for their leadership potential. They need to know this industry is there for them — with support, with encouragement and with careers for the future.

This blog is part of Eick’s turn as featured editor of the Growing Our Generation eletter. Read her full e-newsletter or browse the archive of past issues.

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