To the Editor:
America's youth today lack a sense of direction and motivation. They are inherently lazy and come from broken homes plagued by despair. The evidence is damning: binge drinking, prescription drug addiction and illicit sex.
Regardless of the era, there are those that have long held to the above mantra and I would argue that they most likely the same crowd that have never involved themselves with the youth upon whom they cast stones.
I would like to invite them to our Hamilton County Fair and task them with a few jobs. No, I wouldn't ask them to lift a finger, just simply observe the goings-on and determine just how corrupt our youth truly may be.
On Monday of the fair, they would be required to sit with the judge of the visual arts projects. Much like a job interview, they would witness 4H'ers of all ages presenting projects they created inspired by a myriad of possibilities. Accompanying each project is a literature piece the youth has thoughtfully concocted based upon a skeleton of key learning cues: What materials did you use? What did the project cost? What would you do differently next time?
The Nay-sayer seated next to the judge would then find themself viewing a conversation very much reminiscent of their first interview for that job sacking groceries at Fareway. Indeed, this youth seems rather motivated, groomed, and well-spoken.
This same process would carry on all day with one eager participant after another, from fourth grade through twelfth grade. Over and over again: an involved adult actively listening to an engaged youth.
We would allow them to reflect for a while then meet us on Wednesday of the fair at the show arena for the rabbit show. Their arrival is just in time for the showmanship competition. We explain the concepts central to showmanship to our friend: the class is judged, regardless of species, on the manner in which the exhibitor shows their animal.
For rabbits, these exhibitors are asked to not only exhibit their animal to the best of their ability, but are also expected to have a working knowledge of the rabbit itself: various breed characteristics, common flaws in conformation, disease symptoms and possible treatments. This youth has cared for something that cannot care for itself, has researched a topic and can speak with confidence on that subject matter in the presence of a crowd.
A winner is picked, and he or she graciously shakes hands with the judge and the remaining youth in the class congratulate the winner. Is there disappointment? Yes. Not everyone gets to win. Do the others stomp away then return with a semi-automatic weapon? No. These kids were too busy doing chores and researching snuffles in rabbits to play Weapons of Mass Destruction on their Wii. Instead they might ask that winner about the questions the judge asked, pondered possible mistakes that happened, or planned what they might do differently next year. A mother, a project leader, or other friend might have offered a kind word and they were off to the next event. Involved families with engaged youth, a pattern?
The following day dawns blisteringly hot. Our Nay-sayer is to shadow Cheryll Entriken on the Thursday of the fair. Who is this Cheryll lady? Ask a 4H mother or father and they will tell you she knows all there is to know about being a 4H'er in Hamilton County. What is on the docket for the day? Sheep show, swine and beef check-in, bucket/bottle calf weigh in, trail classes for the horse show, goat show, bottle lamb/bottle goat show, Pride of Iowa contest, and Beef Grooming contest.
The day begins long before 8 a.m. and ends long after 8 p.m. Like the ring leader in a Barnum and Bailey Circus, she orchestrates an army of caring volunteers of all ages. There are dedicated folks in the beef barn making sure the weigh-ins run smoothly; analogous volunteers around the Richard Claude arena set up trail obstacles for the horse show kids in blistering heat, area pork producers chase piggies to their respective pens while sheep producers help lamb showmen put the finishing touches on their show prospects.
As youth graduate from the program, many can be found as these selfless volunteers caring for other youth and a program larger than themselves. The cycle completes itself and the success of each event rests upon the shoulders of these unpaid unsung heroes. Youth learn to become citizens society is honored to have in its midst. Involved adults, engaged youth.
Finally, our Nay-sayer is asked to return to the fair following its completion on the following Monday-exactly one week since they sat with the visual arts judge and the day of the livestock sale.
Area business owners and interested persons sit before the auctioneer watching the stock as they are led through the ring. Today we see a young girl with her market steer enter the ring-both are show-fit and presented just as they were for the show, though if we look closely-her eyes are swollen and red as the auctioneer prattles through the bids. Somewhat ironic, as this is the very steer that stepped on her foot and humiliated her during the show, now there are a different sort of tears-those that come with a final goodbye. "Sold!" he cries, and she glances knowingly at the buyer.
Waiting ringside, her father encircles her in his arms and they lead the calf together out of the Hamilton County Events Center for the last time. These youth understand heartache. They understand that if we are to feed 9 billion people on this planet, sacrifices must be made for the greater good. Does this young lady sink into the depths of despair and require medical treatment for depression? We sure hope not. Remember that hug from Dad? Adults that care, engaged youth.
So, Nay-sayer, how do you feel about our youth after a week at the county fair? I understand you are tired as you have not worked this hard in quite some time. Maybe you've been too busy to read the nastiness in the media this week, or perhaps you have actually become an adult that truly cares. Turns out, 4H isn't just for farm kids and it most certainly isn't just about the kids at all. It is about families and communities; humility, integrity, hard-work and dedication.
Either way, I choose to believe America's youth is vibrant, brilliant, and most of all, limitless. You believe what you choose to believe.