4-H movement inspires continuing loyalty

Many adults remain intense supporters of the organization long after they and their children leave active membership

Candace Tolton of Kenton, Man., has taken the 4-H motto of “learn to do by doing” to heart.

She has worked her way up the ranks to become president of the Manitoba 4-H Council.

Tolton’s road to 4-H began when her eldest daughter, Brooke, turned nine and was old enough to join their local multi-purpose 4-H club, the Kenton Kraftsmen.

“Fifteen years ago, Sean (her husband) and I decided it was time for the fifth generation of Toltons to start 4-H,” said Tolton. “That year I became a leader.”

Tolton was hooked from the onset. She became head leader of the club 13 years ago, but her passion didn’t stop there. She was elected as a director of the Manitoba 4-H Council, became president of the South Parkland area council and was then elected by the board of directors of Manitoba 4-H as president-elect and now president. All four of their children have been active members in 4-H.

Despite all this, Tolton is actually relatively new to the 4-H world. Having grown up in the nearby city of Brandon, she didn’t even know that 4-H existed until about 25 years ago.

“To be honest, I’d never heard of 4-H until I moved to Kenton, which is very disappointing,” said Tolton. “For this reason, one of my missions is to try and get the word out about what an amazing program 4-H is and that you don’t have to be from a rural community to be in 4-H.”

It’s a common misunderstanding that 4-H is exclusive to rural areas, perhaps due to the club’s roots in the agricultural sector or maybe because urbanites have access to a greater selection of activities in which to participate.

However, Tolton is working hard to change that mindset. She believes that 4-H is important to shaping the future of Canada.

“4-H is very important to me because I know we are building youth to become future leaders; the skills these kids learn are amazing,” she said.

4-H alumni are proof of the 4-H program’s success, she said.

Many top government officials and business leaders across the province and country have 4-H experience in their background. Included in this group is former McConnell 4-H Beef Club member, Order of Canada recipient, director of 4-H Canada, and newly inducted honorary member of 4-H Canada, Kim McConnell, who resides in Okotoks, Alta.

“I loved being a 4-H member,” said McConnell about his days as a member of the McConnell Club.

“4-H taught me how to public speak, how to run a meeting, how to conduct myself in an interview, and the discipline to complete projects. I suspect it provided me the confidence I needed to set up my own business.”

The business he refers to is AdFarm, a marketing communications agency with operations throughout North America.

“Over the years, we hired many people, and when we saw 4-H on their resume, they automatically got an interview,” McConnell said of his days with AdFarm.

“4-H is undisputedly the most effective positive youth leadership program in Canada.”

4-H in Canada continues to maintain a steady membership at around 24,000 with another 7,600 volunteers, despite a dwindling rural population.

According to Shannon Benner, chief executive officer of 4-H Canada, the organization’s success is due to its wide selection of projects, and its reputation as a respected influence of youth across the country and the world.

She estimated that about 50 percent of members are still from rural areas, but 30 percent are suburban and 10 percent are urban, which means 4-H is making an impact in cities as well.

Project choices have evolved to embrace and include technology and better reflect today’s interests.

Roland, Man., is recognized as the birthplace of 4-H in Canada and it started in 1913 with what was then called the Boys and Girls Club, later named 4-H in 1951.

Tolton said that their own club has a current membership of 24. It is the only youth organization left in Kenton and takes a role in the community and beyond. As an example and to reinforce the third “H” of the 4-H pledge “my hands to larger service,” each year, just before Christmas, the club spends the day volunteering at the Samaritan House and Helping Hands soup kitchen in Brandon.

“I believe if children are taught at a young age how to make a difference in the lives of others, it just becomes a part of their adult lives,” she said.

Tolton feels fortunate to have found 4-H and to have the opportunity to help deliver the organization’s message.

“We cannot prepare the future for our youth, but we can prepare our youth for the future.”

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