By Sheila Phibbs
The Haldimand Press
Traditionally, September is the time when most 4-H clubs have finished and many members are busy preparing for the fairs. This year has proven to be anything but traditional with most 4-H clubs and activities suspended until 2021. But 2020 also presented an opportunity to adapt by using technology or modifying regular activities to deliver the program. In essence, leaders and members are truly exemplifying the 4-H motto together as they learn to do by doing – online.
Prior to the state of emergency and lockdown in March, the Book Club was one of the few Haldimand clubs that had already started meetings. After having their first meeting at the Cayuga Library, leaders Marie Peart and Stephanie Huitema decided to use Zoom to carry on. Six members chose to continue with one hour Zoom meetings held bi-weekly. Peart delivered books to members’ homes as needed.
To complete the club, members were required to write about their experience through the pandemic and the role of 4-H during their time at home. These essays are currently being featured weekly in The Haldimand Press. In this week’s essay, Olivia Van Ravenswaay shares, “Book Club not only gave me something to look forward to, but also forced me to do something productive and that I liked.” She appreciated reading books that reflected current events such as The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, and says, “It was especially eye opening to read in the wake of the death of George Floyd.”
Like any book club, meetings were primarily discussions on the chosen selections. Participation was key to success and the Zoom meetings were often interactive and fun. Huitema says, “Our group of kids were great and that is one of the main reasons Marie and I wanted to continue with the club online – because the kids loved to read!”
Marie Peart has also been leading a new Explore 4-H Club with Dawn Turnbull. Peart says, “It has been a huge learning curve for us leaders but the Explore 4-H has turned out to be a great club and we both have really enjoyed it.”
Turnbull concurs noting that, “The six members are enthusiastic, and we have been able to have great guest speakers, from MPPs, MPs, and speakers from out of province, something that would be practically impossible to do at an in-person meeting.”
Other activities included members making something for their families using garden fresh zucchini that was delivered to each home by the leaders. Another food challenge involved cooking or baking with local ingredients. Turnbull adds, “We are attempting to make sure to include all the core competencies of the 4-H program … public speaking, critical thinking, judging, parliamentary procedures so that the members receive a comparable experience as previous years.”
While the online format does not work for every type of 4-H club, especially where hands-on instruction is required, it has been surprisingly successful for the Artistic Display Club in which members create a picture using only seeds and grains. Leader Stacy Barnes explains, “We received an email from one of our long-term members who asked us to consider running the club since it would be something fun and much different than doing schoolwork online.”
Along with Zoom meetings, they have created a YouTube channel with videos showing the members the various steps in creating a seed art picture.
The Artistic Display achievement project usually involves members entering their designs in the Field Crops competitions at the Caledonia Fair and the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair. After speaking with the organizers of the Field Crops divisions of both fairs, there are plans for a “COVID-19 Specials” category at next year’s fairs to accommodate the creations of 2020 participants. An online exhibit is also being considered for this year.
Barnes credits the members for the success of the club saying, “They have responded so positively to the online format and even though we as leaders are learning to use online at the same time, they have been patient, and so appreciative of having the chance to participate in this form of 4-H for our club.” One of those members is 10 year old Ella Hedley who is in her first year of 4-H. Her mom and grandma have sat in as guest members of the club and Ella says, “I love 4-H because there is a lot of art and you have to show your creative mind. I also like my leaders and that I get to enjoy it with my mom and Mimi. It’s so fun, I love it.”
Patience has, perhaps, been one of the biggest requirements for 4-H in 2020 as internet in an unpredictable challenge for online clubs. Technical issues have affected member participation at times, but Turnbull says, “We needed to try online virtual meetings to have some data going forward for our association.”
Patience also paid off for the Beef and Intro to Miniature Horse clubs, which began in-person meetings after Haldimand entered Stage 3. Guidelines from the health unit, as well as 4-H Ontario, have been followed and activities modified as required. Miniature Horse leader Isabel Miller notes that cooperation from members, volunteers, and parents assured the success. She says, “Members were very willing to adhere to all protocols – they were just happy to be here and have the opportunity.”
Beef Club leader Peter Burrill adds, “There are some positives, with a slower pace and less pressure of fairs, our many first-year members seem more relaxed and are learning well.”
In the end, the 4-H program is all about learning and the leaders and members of Haldimand 4-H are proving that not even a pandemic can stop them from Learning to Do by Doing.