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Changing face of 4-H

From animals to fashion and rocketry, the emphasis is still on fun
By: Eileen Wilson Special to The Press-Tribune
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Chickens, rabbits and puppies ... oh my. Animals and 4-H Club may have been synonymous in years past, but Eureka Granite Bay 4-H Club isn’t just about critters anymore. Today, activities like hobby railroading, fashion review and rocketry are attracting a whole new generation of youngsters who are falling in love with 4-H. Eureka 4-H, chartered in the 1940s, expanded to include Granite Bay in the ’90s and includes kids from Eureka, Roseville and Loomis school districts, and many home-schooled students as well. The national organization focuses on three major areas including citizenship, leadership and life-skills development. But to the kids, 4-H is all about fun. “Some like doing crafts, some like animals,” said club co-leader, Darlene Miller. “They like being together,” Linda Downs, also a co-leader, agreed. “That’s when I see them the happiest.” Club members do spend a fair amount of time together. The Eureka group, whose members range from age from 5 to 17 and number 20 to 30 members, meets monthly on Tuesday evenings, but also gets together often to work on various projects. Brian Ellis, 8, has been in 4-H for two years. “It’s fun to learn about poultry,” Ellis said. “I also like rocketry. In rocketry I like to see the rockets launch into the air and see the parachutes come out.” Kayla Roberts, 13, has been in 4-H for one year in the rabbit group. This year she entered her rabbits in the Gold Country Fair in Auburn. She took a 1st place in showing her meat pen rabbits. In addition, she earned a second place ribbon in showmanship. “I like coming and introducing others to rabbits, Roberts said. ”I learned a lot about how to raise meat pen rabbits and how to do showmanship.” Members are required to participate in at least one project per year, and Miller and Downs said the kids are particularly looking forward to pairing with members of Roseville Garden Model Railroad Society to assist with the layout of a railroad model. Kids will also create crafts that will be displayed at the Placer County and Gold Country fairs. Eureka 4-H won first prize this year at Placer County Fair’s 4-H Feature Booth exhibit, a fact the group is proud of. Miller said it’s important that kids learn skills like sewing and baking, in addition to crafts. “When we were kids we learned how to sew and bake – they don’t teach some of that in school, and they’re necessary skills,” Miller said. “Kids used to be required to take home economics,” Downs said. “Now they’re just as likely to get ceramics and never learn life skills.” A club favorite is the poultry group, where kids care for chickens and enter their eggs in local fairs. Downs said she is most pleased with the eggs laid by a French Maran. For those who don’t know, a French Maran lays eggs the color of chocolate milk, and the eggs featured in competitions are judged on consistency in size, shape and color. Downs describes the flavor of a Maran egg as incomparable to eggs that can be purchased in a grocery store. “The yolks are bright orange, the flavor amazing, and the yolks and eggs practically stand up in the pan when you crack them,” she said. 4-H’s motto is “learn by doing” and members learn much more than meets the eye. Kids perform as officers and leaders within the organization. The older kids teach younger ones, and there’s no separation by age group in the club, with the exception that very young children aren’t allowed to work with large animals. Rather, it’s a mentoring situation, and kids are described as family-like units. “The 5-year-olds, 12-year-olds, and 16-year-olds come together, and are friends,” Downs said. “A lot of the kids enjoy being leaders, even kids who were quiet and shy at first.” The two leaders said the 4-H members learn to give back to the community and the greater world with their projects as well. In the past, the group has rescued rabbits, held food drives for Placer SPCA, collected supplies for school children in Afghanistan and more. Downs and Miller both have kids in the group, and have been co-leaders for three years. During their time in 4-H, they have seen kids attain the All Star Service Award, and the Emerald Star Project Award, which are similar to the rank of Eagle Scout in a scouting organization. Both women said they believe in the values that are taught in 4-H. “4-H is kind of like getting back to your roots – and parents like that,” Downs said. “It’s an ongoing project throughout the school year, and a lot of the kids return year after year to the same projects.” Downs is excited about this year’s new recruits as well as reconnecting with kids she’s known for years. “It’s really rewarding to see how the kids progress,” she said. The next two enrollment nights are planned for 7 p.m. Oct. 21 and Nov. 18 at Granite Bay Library. Families who are interested can contact Downs for more information at 771-6769.