May 29, 2011

A wake-up Call for 4-H lovers

Participants in a shooting sport training weekend raise their hands to signify they’re ready
 to aim and fire arrows at balloon targets. The training, at Pointer Fish & Game Club in Bedford, was held in conjunction with 4-H Youth Development.
BEDFORD -- Learning how to properly load, shoot and clean a firearm is only part of what young people can gain from 4-H shooting sport training.
Take Daniel Turner of Derry, for example.
After years of instruction through Chester Rod & Gun Club’s 4-H youth program, he has also mastered the fine art of how to lead. Even more important, he said, is that he’s learned how to translate his innate love of the sport into a language that others can easily understand, now that he has the skills to teach.
“It’s been so much more than learning how to shoot a gun. It’s taught me life skills, and responsibility, it’s built character, all while stressing the importance of being safe around guns,” said Daniel who, at 16, is skilled enough to be a junior instructor.
Last weekend he was joined by 45 fellow “students” of all ages from across
 New England at the Pointer Fish & Game Club in Bedford for an intensive training program that required 18 hours of course work over two days. In the end, Turner and the others earned their certification as junior shooting instructors in one of several disciplines: rifle, black powder, pistol, archery and shot gun. 

Daniel Turner, left, of Derry gives some instruction to
Linda Cody of Swanzey, during a 4H Shooting Sports
training weekend atPointer Fish & Game Club in
Bedford. Daniel was there to become
certified as a junior rifle instructor.
Strafford County 
According to Pointer gun club member Dan Ruppel, who coordinates youth events, sports shooting is booming among younger kids — their youth events draw upward of 75 young people. He attributes that, in large part, to the cohesive programming provided by 4-H through UNH Cooperative Extension, which is the designated parent organization for 4-H across all 10 counties in the state. 
Actually, make that nine. 
Fallout from a tough budget year has forced at least one county to pull the plug on its 4-H programming. 
In March, the Strafford County legislative delegation voted to cut $725,326 from the county budget, effectively defunding UNH Cooperative Extension, which shut its doors and laid off all its employees. 
“The Cooperative Extension has never been defunded in its 100-year history. It’s unprecedented,” said Cooperative Extension Director, John Pike. 
He said the pervasive misunderstanding about 4-H is that, somehow, a legion of volunteers will rise up from the ashes and take over programming. But that can’t be, said Pike. 
“4-H can’t exist without the Cooperative Extension, it’s the only entity authorized by the state to develop and administrate programming,” Pike said. 
He believes the dismantling of 4-H programs was an unintended consequence of cutting the funding. 
Hope for 2012 
Earlier this week, one of the county delegation, Rep. Fred Leonard, R-Rochester, who originally favored the funding cut, tried to get the Executive Council to revisit that decision, after realizing the 4-H programming would cease to exist. 
Unfortunately, that’s not going to happen, at least not this year. Hopefully Strafford will get refunded for 2012,” Pike said. 
He said he was frankly a little baffled at the volume of public outcry, given how hard he tried to sound the warning. 
“I tried to be transparent and open and honest and tried to say to people what would happen if we lost funding. Now I’m left scratching my head, wondering what they didn’t get about the consequences of defunding,” Pike said. 
5,000 volunteers 
Strafford is so far the only county to defund UNH Cooperative Extension. There are still three counties that have until July 1 to settle their budgets — Sullivan, Grafton and Hillsboro. And while Pike said he does not realistically fear the worst, there is no assurance that next year’s budget process will be any easier. 
“We’re talking about a program that includes 5,000 volunteers and reaches more than a quarter of a million people, statewide,” Pike said. “Perhaps it’s a bit of a wake-up call.” 
So much more 
Alden Dill of Northwood, who was volunteering for the weekend sport shooting training session in Bedford, could not be more certain of the importance of supporting 4-H programming. 
Yes, there is a perception among those who don’t know any better that it is somehow only about raising goats to show at the county fair. 
It’s so much more than that, said Dill, who is the proud son of two former 4-H members, and who admits, without hesitation, that he married a girl he met in 4-H — whose parents were also both 4-H members. Together, they’re raising a mob of next generation 4-H kids, for as long as there is funding. 
“It’s so far beyond what it used to be. You can see we have the shooting sports going on here today, but there are also many programs in the sciences, including robotics — and the theme that runs through it all is youth development,” Dill said. “It brings families out to participate in activities together. It keeps kids engaged and involved, and many of them continue into adulthood, as volunteers. 
A ripple effect 
He said unlike other youth organizations, 4-H includes boys and girls together and provides an array of opportunities across many disciplines, no matter what your interest. It promotes cooperation and community at every level, Dill said. 
“And then there’s the trickle- down effect. This group of 45 here today will go out into their communities across New Hampshire, Maine and Vermont, and they will directly impact 300 or 400 people — at least — in their individual clubs, and from there, it just keeps going,” Dill said. “It’s a ripple effect.” 

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