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Leadership for Youth Programs Starts with Adults

Kids look up to leaders in all sorts of roles.

Let me say at the outset that there are hundreds of dedicated 4-H leaders, county fair board members, people serving on county 4-H councils and state fair board members all across the state. Many people think through situations carefully and don't act without first considering the consequences. There are truly many people who deserve a heartfelt thanks for giving up time and staying in the background, doing what they do for the good of kids.

With that said, the rest of you may want to get out your dart board and put my picture on it. Sorry, but I feel someone needs to comment on some things that happen in the adult structure and operation of clubs and boards that don't serve kids well, and that don't set good examples for kids. Not everyone who says they are only doing it for the kids or are only serving to help the kids truly means it. At least that's how it appears to me.

This is the time of year when districts hold state fair board elections to elect directors. Many counties won't even send delegates to the election. The vast majority of people have no idea how those people are elected. The truth is they're elected by representatives of various groups in every county who wish to show up to a meeting set aside to specifically elect a director. If your county doesn't participate because no one steps forward, then it's rather difficult to complain if you disagree with what's done at the state fair level.

The State Fair Board and State Fair Commission face a big challenge over the next 12 months. They must figure out how to pull off a successful fair without their centerpiece, the Coliseum, which will be totally off limits in 2013, bust which should re-open in renovated form for 2014. If these groups consider all the options, think about how fairgoers and especially 4-H members will be affected by each decision they must make, then 2013 will still be a great state fair.

At the county level this is the time of year when county fair associations elect fair board members in many instances. No doubt there are meetings that are conducted strictly by the rules of parliamentary procedure, which are short and concise, and which result in election of the new board, all done in an efficient manner. If you've sat through one where that didn't happen that way, for whatever reason, by the third hour of voting you begin to hope no 4-H'ers are present because I've never known of a 4-H club that couldn't elect their leaders in a half hour or less.

Here's the challenge. If you say you're doing it just for kids, at whatever level, then do it for the kids. Hold a 4-H meeting at your house if that's what it takes because you can't find anywhere else to go. Give up your golf cart or ATV when you don't need it at a county fair and work inside the building. Let the young people see you in action. Let them see how you react when there is controversy, especially when things don't go your way.

Everyone gets irritated at times, including me. I've done so in the past, and can't promise I won't in the future. But I can promise that I'm working hard at counting to 10 before I say something I will later regret. Here's hoping everyone in a position of leadership around kids will do the same.

In the big picture of things, kids learning how to buy animals they can afford, caring and grooming them themselves, and getting courteous treatment by adults at the various fairs, including from judges, and seeing positive examples if leadership from those older than them, is far more important than any other aspect of the program. Sometimes leadership means standing up for what's right for a kid or kids, other times it means backing off to avoid a shouting match and handling things the right way.

Kids are watching, whether you know it or not. Use this next year as an opportunity to set the example for anyone who might be watching you.

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