STANTON — Supporters of Montcalm County’s 4-H program are hoping the currently vacant 4-H coordinator position will be improved to a full-time job.
Local 4-H advocates appeared at Monday’s Montcalm County Board of Commissioners meeting to ask the board to consider improving the part-time position to a full-time position for the upcoming fiscal year.
The coordinator position has been vacant since mid-June, when Rebecca McCafferty resigned to take another 4-H job in Florida. McCafferty had worked as 4-H coordinator for both Ionia and Montcalm counties, part-time in each county.
MSU Extension has historically paid half of the cost of a 4-H coordinator while Montcalm County paid the remaining half of the cost until 2010 when the county eliminated it as part of budget cuts. The cost for Montcalm County to have a full-time 4-H coordinator would be approximately $29,175, according to MSU Extension District 8 Coordinator Don Lehman.
In surrounding counties, the 4-H coordinator position is half funded by MSU Extension and half funded by the county in Barry, Clinton, Gratiot and Mecosta counties.
Longtime local 4-H leader Kim Thomsen appeared before commissioners on Monday, along with this year’s 4-H’er of the Year Kennedy Cogswell and second runner-up Elizabeth Yelland.
Thomsen read the 4-H coordinator job description to commissioners, noting that it’s impossible to do the job in 20 hours per week. She also presented research from a national 4-H study, which says youths who participate in 4-H are four times more likely to make contributions to their communities, two times more likely to be active in civics, two times more likely to make healthier choices and two times more likely to participate in science, engineering and computer technology programs outside of school. Girls who participate in 4-H are nearly three times more likely to take part in science programs.
Thomsen noted that Montcalm County’s 4-H program involves 510 4-H’ers, 348 adult volunteers, 136 leaders, 103 youth volunteers and 31 clubs.
“I have noticed (during her 20 years as a 4-H leader) that our participation in events has declined when we haven’t had a full-time person,” Thomsen said. “Our numbers at Exploration Days have been half between the time that we’ve had a full-time person and the time that we’ve had a part-time person. Our part-time person has not had the time to actively pursue and engage people for those events.
“Agriculture is the No. 1 industry in Montcalm County and Montcalm County 4-H embodies agriculture, youth and our community,” Thomsen summarized.
Cogswell said 4-H has positively impacted her life in many ways. She serves on the youth conservation council and has participated in Exploration Days and Natural Resources Camp, in addition to being named this year’s 4-H’er of the Year.
“I would like to see more youth become involved,” Cogswell said. “I think a lot of youth just don’t know about stuff and it’s hard when you have a part-time position and you can’t do all the advertising and reach out as much as you need to. We need it. It would really help out a lot of kids who don’t know that there’s so much more to 4-H than livestock and showing at the fair. You don’t have to have animals to show and participate at the fair. It’s not about the animals, it’s about activities and leadership and events. We really need to get that out to other youth in the county.”
“I think we need a full time coordinator because we need more involvement in leadership,” Yelland added. “4-H has been a very big part of my life. I don’t know where I would be without it. It made me feel like I was part of something and I hope other people can feel that way too.”
Melissa Eldridge of Evergreen Township was among other 4-H leaders who attended Monday’s meeting. She has three children, all of whom are active in 4-H.
“It’s all-encompassing,” she said of the 4-H program. “It doesn’t stipulate to any specific child, no matter what socio-economical climate you come out of. It doesn’t matter if you come from a rural or an urban area. It was very meaningful, not only for my personal growth, but also for my career, and I hope it will be so for my children as well. It gets the kids out there doing activities, away from the screen time we know they like.”
Rita Hockmeyer, a recently retired Carson City-Crystal High School teacher, is a longtime 4-H volunteer who has even worked with the program internationally.
“What I wanted to point out as a teacher is that many of our schools have taken out the vocational programs in the schools and the kids don’t have those opportunities to get involved with those hands-on projects like they used to, and that makes me really sad,” she said. “I’ve seen many kids be successful when they learn to be leaders and get involved in our communities. If there’s not leadership, it can’t happen. It takes a lot to make that program go. It’s such a good thing and I’d hate to see it go by the wayside because we only have a part-time person.”
The Montcalm County Board of Commissioners will consider the request during their budget talks for the upcoming fiscal year.