Each year Colorado 4-H members participate in a variety of events, learning opportunities, and contests across the state and within their counties. We often see these highlighted in the local newspapers and social media timelines. We smile at the news, applaud the accomplishment, and move on about our day losing touch with where those youth ended up following their 4-H career completion. This article series highlights youth from the 2011 Colorado State 4-H Conference and investigates how 4-H shaped their lives and the skills it provided to help them enter adulthood and experience world events not seen in over 100 years.
Theresa Rink, formerly Butler, is the first member in the "Why 4-H" series spotlight. Rink was a Prowers County 4-H member active in a wide variety of projects: market and breeding sheep, horses, leadership, and studying a foreign county.
"I chose the Pathmakers 4-H club in Holly because my friends were in it and I wanted, as any young child, to be with them," Rink said. She entered her first 4-H year in 2007 just months before the Holly tornado devastated the community. The tornado cut a wide swath through town and the surrounding area along with taking her sheep project housing, pens, and all equipment they had just started to purchase. District VI 4-H officers (Baca, Bent, Cheyenne, Crowley, Kiowa, Prowers, and Otero Counties) and the Pathmakers club stepped forward to bring panels, pens, new supplies, and a cooler to the family. "I realized then that 4-H was more than a project, it was a family. Ryan and Jace Nordyke, two fellow club members, along with the district members had no idea who I was, and they helped me rebuild, I had only been a 4-H member for a short time" Rink said.
Buoyed by the new 4-H family Rink began jumping into club involvement. Following her first elected officer position fellow 4-H members began taking notice of her drive and willingness to serve. Tanner Barth, Pathmakers club member and county council and district officer, encouraged her to run for county wide experience. "My dad, Tanner, and the county agent were my biggest supporters," Rink said. She went on to hold every single club office as well as county council vice president and president and district secretary and treasurer. Rink went on to say, "I wanted to have a role in 4-H, to be more involved, and moving into county offices gave me the open door."
Those officer positions and projects taught work ethic, gave her confidence in schoolwork, and helped her complete work duties correctly in and out of school. "Election and officer preparation gave me job interview experience when I applied for professional positions in college and following graduation," Rink said.
Following the 4-H Life Skills model of teaching marketable skills, teamwork, and sharing Rink highlighted that record keeping, project and officer record books, taught her to watch her money. "Record books were my least favorite, but those skills found in the project record keeping and holding the treasurer offices gave me confidence as an adult that we are financially going to be ok as a family. We have farm books that we keep now, and those 4-H record books taught me to be timely and that has carried through to today," Rink said.
"4-H took me out of my comfort zone and gave me the confidence to talk to people I did not know and taught me responsibility," Theresa said. An example of stepping out onto the national stage was when she participated in the National Western Stock Show (NWSS) Catch a Calf (CAC) program. This one-year program involves an application, a calf scramble during a Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) performance and if they catch a calf then they come back to the NWSS grounds the first of May to pick up their market steer. For the next seven months they feed, house, and work with their animal as well as complete their record keeping and sponsor relations. The sponsor relations component is a monthly letter to their calf sponsor detailing what they are learning with their steer and project. The CAC show helps kick off the new annual NWSS with showmanship, interview, record book judging, showing, and sponsor relations all on a national stage. Following her CAC completion, she became a mentor for other Prowers County youth in the program.
Rink credits 4-H trips, conferences, and involvement with teaching her something new at every opportunity. "It was always entertaining, taught me leadership, and left me a positive impression." Because of her 4-H involvement she knew she wanted to pursue a career in agriculture. She attended West Texas A&M and completed a bachelor's degree in agribusiness. "I have always liked numbers and went into the banking industry, but I wanted something more hands-on, so my husband and I moved back to Southeast Colorado and he farms, and I work for Lamar Community College, now I work with college students. This ties back to my 4-H career because I learned the valuable life skills and wanted to give back to my community," she said.
She has served on the Prowers County livestock committee, was the Sand and Sage Round-Up beef superintendent and currently serves with the local 4-H Foundation. Her involvement as a youth has carried on as she looks back to her 4-H membership. She met her husband, Sam, while in the 4-H program and her involvement inspired him to become more engaged on the county level. Their son Hesston is already looking to his years as a Cloverbud member. "We are ready to jump back in but are soaking up a few years before the club program starts up for Hesston," Theresa and Sam said.
"4-H builds a lifetime of opportunity and I look forward to continue walking through this series as we showcase those 2011 State Conference attendees now ten years later. They have faced a wide variety of world and state events and it has been clear that their 4-H involvement and life skills learned in the program have made a difference. This is an important time for all of us to evaluate the programs that make a lifelong impact, 4-H is one of those," Lacey Taylor, Colorado State University Extension Cheyenne County agent said.