4-H members carry on despite COVID

Mason, left, and Keifer McLaughlan’s family from Mannville, Alta., held a mock 4-H show recently to prepare them for when they can get into the ring again. Last year they weren’t able to show their steers in front of a judge because the Vermilion and area 4-H beef club had to cancel its spring show due to the pandemic. | Robin Wheat photo

Pandemic restrictions have kept many members apart but have also prompted them to hone new communications skills

Members of 4-H can add resilience to their resumes after a second year of holding activities online, including shows, public speaking and achievement days.

Joe Mangin, leader of the Minitonas Beef club said their Manitoba club met in person once in the past 18 months. Instead, the club communicated and met through group chats, email and virtual meetings.

“It’s not the same. They’re making the best of it. It’s not as fun and enjoyable as it would have been in person, but it’s still working,” said Mangin of Swan River, Man.

“We have a good group of kids.”

Their club’s show is planned for May 25 with physical distancing required between members in the show ring.

Unlike previous years when animals were tied in a barn and the members mingled among the stalls, this year members will keep their animals tied to stock trailers until it’s their turn in the show ring.

“If it’s the lightweight class showing, then the heavyweight class will be back at the trailers. It is a lot of juggling around.”

The beef sale will be on the internet auction DLMS May 27-29.

Shannon Carvey, club support co-ordinator with the Manitoba 4-H Council, said the clubs started the year with enthusiasm hoping to have a near-normal year.

“We started out pretty open-minded and open hearted that we would have somewhat of a normal year. For the most part everyone was moving forward with positive thoughts,” said Carvey of Brandon.

“It has not been a cookie-cutter year.”

Carvey said while rules for COVID-19 have kept many members apart, it has created opportunities for provincial staff, club leaders and members to learn new skills, including leading online meetings.

“It has helped us have better communication through group text messages and email groups.”

While some clubs in Manitoba have pushed pause on club activities for this year, other clubs have increased the number of members in their club, she said.

“People were looking for something they could do with their kids at home,” said Carvey.

“COVID has done a lot of great things for our program, not that it hasn’t come with some hard changes, but it has offered some opportunities.”

Members of one equine club were given weekly virtual challenges to do with their horse. The members took videos and photos of the activities and shared them with members of their club.

Cera Youngson, executive director of Saskatchewan 4-H, said their clubs have also met with some challenges.

In Saskatchewan, clubs were able to meet in person in small groups or in public spaces for most of the year. Other clubs chose to only have virtual meetings and activities.

Through a grant, the provincial office created 1,600 activity kits with a variety of topics. A board game was developed with a focus on beef production. Another kit focused on different cuts of meat. Others could learn about weather by building a terrarium and a wind-measuring anemometer.

“Those have been really successful.”

Mason McLaughlan works with his steer. | Robin Wheat photo

Youngson said most clubs have continued their public speaking, achievement days and other year-end activities, either in small, socially distanced, in-person activities, or totally virtual events.

“We are looking forward to gathering together again. 4-H is flexible, it’s resilient and it can still happen,” she said.

“4-H is still happening, it just might look differently.”

In Alberta, members’ online marketing skills improved dramatically with the time spent on the computers, said area co-ordinator Brenda Murdoch.

“The kids gained a lot from small, interactive groups,” she said.

The smaller-group numbers, created because of pandemic rules, allowed some members to shine in their club. Some clubs had reduced numbers, while other clubs’ membership “exploded” because 4-H was one of the few clubs operating through the pandemic.

One club paraded its animals past the windows of a seniors centre, giving the shut-in seniors a parade of their own, she said.

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