|A local grandmother is working to organize a 4-H chapter
for her granddaughter and others who would benefit.
Union Leader Correspondent
DERRY -- It wasn’t until later in life that Cheryl O’Connell realized she’d taken for granted her own privileged childhood.
Life with the cows was pretty cool, too.
So when she grew up and had a family of her own, she wanted to recreate some of that cool fun for her kids, who were also privileged to grow up on a farm in Derry.
“It’s never been very profitable, but we always had horses for riding and showing. I’ve got chickens and cows and two baby goats, and my granddaughter finds it all endlessly fascinating,” said O’Connell.
Her granddaughter, Ashlie Dodge of Londonderry, spends as much time as possible on Grandmom’s farm, but O’Connell senses there could be even more fun — and learning — if only there were a local 4-H Club to join.
“Things are just so much more fun when you have friends interested in the same things you are. I’m not sure how many other kids are out there with animals, or who wish they had them, but I’m sure Ashlie could benefit from meeting them,” O’Connell said. “If we don’t teach these young people now, when will they learn?”
O’Connell, used to rolling up her sleeves, is even willing to step up and become a volunteer 4-H leader. She contacted 4-H youth development educator Michael Young, with UNH Cooperative Extension, who has officially put the word out that he’s looking for a co-leader interested in starting a chicken, cow and goat club with O’Connell — or whatever kind of 4-H Club might be relevant to other kids like O’Connell’s 11-year-old granddaughter.
Of the 25 active 4-H Clubs in Rockingham County, none are in Derry.
“I’ve got a list of folks who’ve expressed interest in 4-H who live around Derry but there hasn’t been a club formed that met their needs. Cheryl is interested in starting something but would prefer to have someone to assist,” said Young.
What was established more than a century ago as a handson way for young people to experiment with new agricultural techniques has grown into an international youth development program, with opportunities ranging from environmental and animal science to health and fitness, communication and leadership building.
“For those unfamiliar with 4-H, it’s much like Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts, only not as formally structured. Where those organizations organize by school districts normally, we follow more the interests of the leaders or kids in any given area,” Young said.
Despite its historic roots, 4-H — which stands for head, hands, heart and health — has never been more relevant, said Young, given a couple of current trends that support the kind of opportunities available for curious kids.
“For one thing, there’s the current thrust in agriculture toward local foods. We’re finding that people are getting to know these processes better, sort of relearning the basics of food production and farm animal care,” Young said.
Beyond getting back to nature, 4-H can provide an outlet for kids who may otherwise be having trouble finding a niche in a world where, often, children’s lives are more meticulously scheduled than our own.
“There are plenty of parents who don’t want to get on the soccer treadmill with their kids — they just don’t want to do it every Saturday. Or maybe their kids have enjoyed practicing but hate going to games and are looking for something else,” Young said.
“There’s even another layer to how 4-H provides an outlet for some children — with all the stuff in the paper about bullying and how to protect our children from it, the most powerful piece of advice out there is that if your kid is being bullied, sometimes the best thing you an do is find another place that child can belong,” Young said. “A 4-H Club is a place where a kid can not only fit in, but be welcomed whether he or she is into photography, or sewing, or raising animals, or public speaking.”
O’Connell said as an active, engaged grandmother, she’s interested in doing anything she can to extend her own love of nature and farming to young people who, like her granddaughter, are attracted to the natural order of life.
“Years ago I was a Girl Scout leader, and I believe it will be the same with 4-H — you get as much out of it as you put into it; it’s all about doing things, not just sitting through a boring meeting.
I want the kids to go away from this being glad they did it, but also learning from it and being excited about it,” O’Connell said. “I’d hate to think anyone interested in learning wasn’t given the opportunity just because there was no outlet to turn to for the kind of information and camaraderie they were looking for, the kind that 4-H has to offer.”
To learn more about 4-H or to get a leader application, visit the UNH Cooperative website, extension.unh.edu, click on “Counties,” then “Rockingham,” then “4-H Youth Development,” or call 679-5616.