TERRE HAUTE —
For the last 10 years, Gabi Pruitt has been doing projects in photography, scrapbooking, and arts and crafts. For the last seven, she has been having lots of fun working with swine.
The senior at Terre Haute South Vigo High School has been a Vigo County 4-H member since third grade, a year when she remarkably finished 32 4-H projects.
“As I look back in my life … some of the fondest memories I have are from 4-H,” Pruitt said.
4-H is a youth development program offered to kids in grades 3 through 12. Children in first and second grades can also participate through the mini-4-H program. These young members get involved in the community and work on projects ranging from animals to cupcake decorating. They also show off their projects during the annual 4-H fair.
“4-H is not just for people that live on the farm,” said Sarah Gaughan, a 4-H youth development educator at the Purdue Extension-Vigo County, which runs Vigo County 4-H.
Animal projects are certainly part of 4-H but “we have a great project for anyone,” she said, adding that there are about 60 Vigo County 4-H projects available for members to enroll in. Some of those projects were on display during a 4-H open house Saturday at the Wabash Valley Fairgrounds.
In addition to learning from their projects, Vigo County 4-H’ers — about 700 of them last year — also come away with skills such as leadership, time management, responsibility, community service and communication skills, Gaughan said.
Effective communication and leadership are two of the most important skills that Pruitt learned from her decade-long involvement with 4-H.
When she was in elementary school, “I was shy and afraid,” to talk to other people. But ever since she got involved with 4-H — thanks in part for the influence of her best friend’s family — her communication skills have improved, she said.
Today, as president of the 4-H Jr. Leaders program — which focuses on community service — Pruitt has become a young leader within the 4-H community.
She and her best friend from elementary school have spent summers together because of the fair, Pruitt said.
These are the friendships that the Terre Haute resident will cherish and the skills she will apply when she starts studying nursing at Anderson University in the fall. She wants to become a family nurse practitioner.
“4-H really prepares you for your future,” Gaughan said.
A study conducted by youth development scholars at Tufts University “discovered that the structured out-of-school time learning, leadership experiences, and adult mentoring that young people receive through their participation in 4-H plays a vital role in helping them achieve success.”
According to the research findings, 4-H youths are nearly four times as likely to make contributions to their communities; about twice as likely to be civically active; and nearly twice as likely to make healthier choices.
Adults benefit from 4-H, too.
Gaughan said about 90 adult volunteers who work directly with young members and their projects make the successes of 4-H possible.
One Vigo County 4-H volunteer is Mary Ann Sedletzeck, an elementary teacher in Paris, Ill.
She has been a volunteer for 40 years and before that, she was also a 10-year Vigo County 4-H member.
“This summer will be my 50th Vigo County Fair,” Sedletzeck said.
Sedletzeck started volunteering to give back to 4-H. As a member growing up, she said she was exposed to many opportunities, mentors and peers and they helped “bring out” her leadership skills.
“The thought of stopping has never really came to being,” she said of staying as a volunteer for so long.
For her, there has always been a young 4-H beginner that she wanted to watch grow into a confident person.
“You just see that lightbulb come on,” Sedletzeck said.
“As long as I’m able to do it … I’ll always be involved,” the Terre Haute resident said.
Dianne Frances D. Powell can be reached at 812-231-4299 or firstname.lastname@example.org.