Sunday, August 9, 2015

Don't You Miss 4-H? Why I Left Being a 4-H Staffer

Today marks the opening day of the Goodhue County Fair, and it will be the first time since I was 5 years old that I haven’t had a major responsibility at a county fair.  I’ve been asked multiple times over the last few weeks if I like my new job and if I miss 4-H.  The answer to both questions is yes. And no.

You see, it’s complicated.  People don’t become 4-H Program Coordinators without having a deep love, passion, and understanding for the program.  It is because of those things they endure long days, little sleep, angry parents, and little appreciation, not just during the week of the fair, but all year long.  Not to mention the verbal abuse, having to enforce policies you had no say in and maybe don’t agree with, and the fact that you literally have 300 bosses in addition to the person who is your actual supervisor.  But for 9 years I endured all of that, because I LOVE 4-H.  I LOVE watching kids grow, and learn, and discover.  I love seeing kids be completely in their element – their happy place – whether that’s on stage, in the show ring, or goofing off with their friends in the barn.  I love listening to kids excitedly tell me about their projects.  I love the look on a kid’s face when I tell them they have earned that state fair trip.  I love that 4-H shapes the lives of so many young people.  They were all MY kids.  I LOVED my 4-H experience as a youth and wanted so badly to help other kids have that too.

But the reality is, life as a 4-H Program Coordinator is something no one truly understands until they have stood in those shoes.  No one realizes how much work it is, both physically, mentally, and emotionally.  It isn’t always purple ribbons and smiling faces.  Sometimes people screw up, and then the PC has to deal with the fall out.  It isn’t the PC’s fault that you didn’t get your paperwork in on time, or your calf died after the registration deadline, or the judge placed that other child’s project over yours.  There is no way to make everyone happy; if there was, believe me, I would do it.  Life also isn’t fair, again, if I could make it that way, I would. 

Once during the fair, I was talking with a 4-H parent and they made the comment, “isn’t it so awesome how the fair just “happens”?”  Um, excuse me?  The fair happens because a lot of people put in a lot of work, especially your 4-H PC.  The fact that there were judges, and ribbons, and clerks, and a place to display your project?  Thank your PC.  The fact there was a space for your animal, a sign for the stall, your name in the program, and volunteers to run the show?  Again, thank your PC.  When you got to the state fair, you had a bed, a stall, meal tickets, or your project was already there on display?  Yep, that was your PC too, as well as a tremendous group of volunteers and other staff.  A volunteer once told me that I was like the engine in the car – a car has lots of working pieces, but the engine is really the heart and soul, and a car won’t work without it.  That’s pretty much the jest of it – thank you for saying that.

Even with all that, I can’t say it enough - I love 4-H.  I love what it does for young people.  I love what it does for families.  I love what it does for agriculture.  So why did I leave?  I was burned out.  My kids missed me.  My husband missed me.  Leaving the county fair in 2014 in an ambulance caused me to start looking at some things in my life.  When my doctors asked me about my stress level, I didn’t even know how to respond.  How could I even explain what my job is?  What I do?  How much responsibility I have, how many people are counting on me?

The opportunity at Mayo really found me, and I took that as a sign that it was time to move on.  The decision to leave my role with 4-H was very difficult, as being a 4-H Program Coordinator had become so much of who I was.  I knew the 4-H program inside and out, it was as familiar to me as the back of my hand.  The world of medicine was foreign to me, and I had fears of being a fish out of water.  But the hours were regular and I had my weekends back.  My work didn’t always follow me home, and my work cellphone wasn’t ringing at 6:00pm as my family was sitting down to supper.  For the first time in a while, I could breath.  The work was challenging, but I felt myself growing professionally, and I enjoyed being part of a team.  I remembered that I love creating, and solving problems, and teaching people.  I looked forward to going to work. 

So yes, I miss 4-H.  But no, I don’t miss being a 4-H Program Coordinator.  I’m going to enjoy this summer of no responsibility because next summer I’ll be back – this time as a 4-H mom, one role in the 4-H world I have yet to play. 

My story is not unique – I could be describing any 4-H Program Coordinator in this post.  They aren’t 4-H Program Coordinators because the pay is great – they do it because they love 4-H, and they love your kids. 

4-H has taught me so much about myself, life, and brought wonderful relationships into my life, and for that I am so thankful.  Best of luck to all Goodhue County 4-Hers, parents and volunteers as you embark on this week ahead.  Know that I am thinking about you, and rooting for you. 

And that I am so proud of you. 



  1. Good read, Mamie! THANKS for giving so much for so long~ and thanks to ALL you PC's! :) Blessings on your Mayo job! L Patterson

  2. Wonderfully written and great insight into the real life of a 4-H Program Coordinator! Sadly you are not the only PC to leave the county fair in an ambulance - that was me on the last day of our county fair in 2011. We do it because we have such a deep love for the families and youth we work with and know this program really does make a difference not only in individual lives but in that of our communities and world.

  3. Excellently stated! I think it's fair to say you speak for many passionate 4-H youth development professionals across this country. Thanks for sharing!

  4. I never pursued being a PC because as a young adult volunteer I quickly learned that it was not the place for me. Yes I loved 4-H all my life, and I loved the youth that I got to play a small part in their lives. It was amazing to give back to a program that gave me so much. However, as more and more PCs changed, it started becoming a less and less for youth by youth program. Youth adult partnerships became a joke. I had more and more teens coming to me broken because their adult partner made them feel small and insignificant. I overheard conversations of some PCs laughing and joking about how they had gotten youth in their county to fight to be one of their favorites. It literally broke my heart. I stayed a volunteer until a majority of the teens I had grown close with aged out, and my heart hurt over the ones I wouldn't be there to fight for. I still love 4-H and what it is supposed to stand for, however I do not love what it has become in certain locations and am praying for strong PCs who are there genuinely for the youth.

    1. Thank you for this honest response. It helps hearing that I am not the only 4-H volunteer leader who has noticed the new "trend" with PCs and 4-H Agents. Our county is on our 3rd 4-H Agent in 6 years and it has been tough on our youth. The last Agent was one who seemed to want the youth and volunteers to fight to be their favorite and it caused a lot of hurt in the county.

  5. I can fully appreciate where you were coming from - been there done that. There were many factors that went into my decision to leave Extension, one being the family. I had a new grandchild and my son would call to see if I was going to be home and many nights my answer was "no, I have a meeting". They were planning to come over and visit. I was brought up through 4-H and it is so rewarding to see youth involved in the program grow and mature. I also valued programming the exposed youth to non-traditional projects for those that didn't have the opportunity to be involved in the traditional animal projects. Financial literacy and entrepreneurship programs were not always welcomed with open arms by those involved in traditional programs. Someone we just know when it is time to move on. I applaud your strength to move to the next chapter in your life. Know that you did make a difference.

  6. Very well written testament to what Program Coordintors experience day in and out. Although I did not leave the fair in an ambulance, I did find myself in the hospital during my pregnancy due to over exhaustion, only to be met with "how dare you be pregnant, almost due, so close to the fair". If only this volubteer had known the number of miscaraiges I had prior to that pregnancy. My plea to volunteers is to understand that we love our jobs, but we are human too. We have real life struggles, families, and friends as well and all too often we put our programs, volunteers, and other people's children ahead of everything and everyone else. Please, thank your 4-H Program Coordinator and let them know they DO make a difference!

  7. The 4-H program was my life. I was a 10 year 4-H'er and then signed on as the 4-H Youth Coordinator for over 29 years. I raised my family, missed some of their activities, stayed up the night before fair entry to supervise last minute finishes to projects etc. all due to being the 4-H Youth Coordinator. I had threats made to me personally,dealt with upset parents, and many numerous unpleasant situations. I loved my position and working with youth. The 4-H program can be a great program for youth. Honestly it isn't what it used to be but 4-H can still help shape the lives of our youth to be honest, dependable, hard working, and good citizens. It is a thankless job. Remember to let your Youth Coordinator know you appreciate all you do.

  8. Change PC to 4-H Leader and with absolutely NO PAY, and I am with you 100%! My kids' exhibits were always after my 4-H kids:(. Juggled 55 kids in our club at one point in time. I too LOVE 4-H and the kids and all it does for them but I also burnt out after 17 years. But they were the BEST years of my life:)!

  9. Change PC to 4-H Leader and with absolutely NO PAY, and I am with you 100%! My kids' exhibits were always after my 4-H kids:(. Juggled 55 kids in our club at one point in time. I too LOVE 4-H and the kids and all it does for them but I also burnt out after 17 years. But they were the BEST years of my life:)!

  10. So well said! Thank you!!

  11. You said it perfectly Mamie! I did this same job for over 16 years and it is the passion that keeps us in the job. Thankfully, I never left fair in an ambulance but did have one ER visit due to a table dropped on my foot during fair set-up. I changed positions within Extension several years ago when my kids were younger and while life is still crazy sometime, it's not as crazy as when I worked within the 4-H realm. Thanks for sharing and remember to thank people who work hard and make a difference in your life!

  12. Everything said here is true, and believe me, if one is single, people expect even more. I did not leave fair in an ambulance, but did work for over a year with a debilitating illness. Wish I had been reasonable enough to resign sooner!