I wrote about FFA Saturday, so in my reflective, "what made Jessica" state I thought I'd weigh in on 4-H, too. I'd like to begin with a ground-breaking statement:
4-H and FFA are not the same.
Just like men and women are not the same; 4-H and FFA are not the same. Like men and women are similar, 4-H and FFA are similar. Like men and women are different, 4-H and FFA are different. A man isn't the same as a woman; one cannot replace the other. If the world was full of all men, where would the reproduction be? Similarly, if the world was full of women, where would the reproduction be? We must co-exist to co-create (and procreate). Men and women are wonderful complements to each other; similarly 4-H and FFA are wonderful complements to each other - but one cannot replace the other.
For me, 4-H fostered the skills necessary to be a competent and competitive FFA member. Without 4-H, I never would have joined FFA. FFA was attractive to me as an arena to take my skills to the next level. FFA would not have been attractive to me if I didn't already have those skills - or the self-confidence to pursue competition.
Iowa 4-H is different from Arizona 4-H is different from Michigan 4-H. Iowa 4-H county to county is different, as well. (And, in my humble opinion, I like it that way. Of course, I was in a county with an excellent leader - and that does make all the difference.)
My 4-H experience looked like this: I was part of an all-girl club (yes, really; those were rare 20 years ago and now they're like a unicorn; people hardly believe they ever existed). Our club was a community (technically township) club - compared to a project area club. As club members, our projects ranged from food & nutrition to clothing to horticulture to livestock projects. As a club, we performed service activities for our community and county. We met once a month (in someone's home at first; later at our church), discussing club business, learning something new (from members' demonstrations), and enjoying each others' company.
My club required that every year, we had to do a demonstration (read: a presentation where you teach others to do something) - and for the first few years, we were assigned a general topic that correlated to a project area (food and nutrition, clothing, etc). My first presentation was about measuring ingredients. (I had no idea what to talk about; my mom picked the topic)
I joined in the 4th grade, which was the first year that I could join.
My 4-H age (a real thing) was usually an entire year younger than my
actual age. (That's a good idea now that I think of it; I will go with
that and be 35 a for another 9 months.) When I joined, two of my friends were also new members. Nearly every other member was at least 4 years older than me.
I was a really shy kid. This may surprise some people who have known me because when I am comfortable around people, shy would not be the word that would cross your mind. Opinionated. Loud. But, shy? Yes. One of my strengths (winning others over) also causes me to get anxious about social situations (I-just-want-to-be-liked-what-if-no-one-likes-me?). So, giving a presentation in front of high school students that I looked up to (idolized is probably a better word) could induce a panic attack. But, my mom instilled in me the importance of the great speaking anxiety reducer: practice.
So, I practiced. I gave my presentation with confidence. I learned that I can do this. I was less nervous about speaking. I started creating my own presentations and choosing topics. I looked forward to giving my presentation and sharing my knowledge. I took more 'risks' - and did communication projects with my club (Share-the-Fun) and with a friend (working exhibits). I found success.
4-H taught me that with practice you can master skills. 4-H taught me that everything is scary at first; practice makes it less scary. 4-H taught me that life is about process not the outcome.
(Okay: now let's look at interesting juxtaposition. Ironic that now Extension is so focused on outcomes that states have decimated what made their programs so successful?)
Learning those lessons gave me confidence in my abilities. I became a less shy kid. In fact, when given the opportunity to shine (thank you Deb Hall), I actually sought people out. My WOO strength bloomed thanks to opportunities provided through Adair County Youth Council, Area 4-H Council, SOFA, and State Council.
It was through County & Area Councils and SOFA Planning Team that I learned how to be a collaborative leader. My strength of ideation went into full-force dreaming up day camps, workshops, field trips, and t-shirt design. Implementing these camps and trips allowed me to practice my adaptability strength - and learn to welcome the unpredictable.
4-H allowed me grow into the person I am by fostering opportunities to develop talents. These talents were strengthened through county, area, and state opportunities. FFA provided a platform to exercise the talents in a competitive setting. 4-H is collaboration; FFA is competition. (Kinda like the feminine and masculine energies, huh?) Both are valuable; both teach essential life lessons - but different lessons and through different methods.