This summer, I had the opportunity to go back to my childhood, from a different perspective. I worked with the University of Illinois Extension Unit in my home county and two neighboring counties. Throughout the summer, I learned many things about Extension and about myself.
- I’m not a fan of long commutes
While working with Extension, I traveled throughout the 3 counties I was covering. Since I live on the outside edge of one of those counties, I drove A LOT. I definitely learned that I don’t want a job with a long commute, or if I’m ever in that kind of position again, I need to find a good way to entertain myself during the drive.
On the bright side, I now know a 40 mile stretch of roads that I haven’t traveled much before like the back of my hand! I also had fun exploring the countryside and rural roads around me that I wouldn’t otherwise drive on.
- I like lists
For most of the summer, I taught 2-hour day camps based off of 4-H curriculums. My co-workers and I spent the first two weeks on the job learning the curricula and gathering supplies. This required lists upon lists upon lists. We had lists for each day and each curriculum. We then compiled these lists and had lists of supplies we found in our storage spaces and lists of items we had to buy. The list of our lists could go on and on.
As annoying as it can be, I learned how important it was for us to be organized and have a plan at the beginning to help the rest of our summer run more smoothly.
- I can fit a lot of stuff in my trunk
This summer, I drove my 2009 Chevy Impala a lot (refer to #1). Most of the time I was driving it, the truck was filled to the brim. Because I was working in so many different locations, I kept most of my supplies with me. The primary curriculum that I taught was called “Boulders, Bugs, and Beyond.” I got to teach kids about everything from volcanoes to butterflies to fossils and everything in between. That being said, I had birdseed, play dough, hula-hoops, graham cracker, bags of dirt and lots of other seemingly random items in my trunk.
- I shouldn’t be scared of kids in 3-6th grade
As I mentioned, the summer was full of working with kiddos. I’ve done a lot of volunteering with kids and while I don’t know that I want to work with them forever, this summer was a great experience! I usually shy away from working with kids that are older than about 2nd grade because, honestly, they can get a bit too sassy for me after that! This job pushed me out of my comfort zone as the kids in the camps were in grades 3-6. It turns out that they were great and I really didn’t have too much to be worried about. Some of them were a bit of a challenge, but kids will be kids. Overall, they were great and it was fun to see them learning and retaining what we taught them week-to-week. Their curiosity and excitement made every day a new adventure.
Some of my favorite memories of the kids we taught include the ones that voluntarily helped us clean the room up after a messy craft and the ones that remembered me and gave me a hug when I saw them later in the summer. I also can’t forget the boy who started and brought in his new rock collection the week after we learned about rocks. Those moments made me feel like I was actually making an impact in someone else’s life.
- It’s important to like the people you work with
I had a lot of fun this summer! While I can attribute a lot of that to the kiddos I worked with, my summer would not have been the same without my co-workers. I had the privilege of working with 3 other summer staff members throughout the season. From shopping for supplies and cleaning out the storage room to carpooling and teaching camps together, we always had each other laughing. For all the laughing we did, we also got a lot done. We brainstormed and problem-solved together as the summer presented different challenges.
I was also blessed to work for some really great bosses. The program coordinators and leadership in each county offered great guidance but let us take on projects and responsibilities. They also offered plenty of laughs of their own!
- People are more likely to donate if you ask
One of the summer staff responsibilities is to plan and run the Food Stand at the Whiteside County 4-H Show. This included getting all of the food, paper goods, and health certification for the Food Stand. As a non-profit organization, we wanted to get as many of the supplies as possible donated. After my co-workers and I decided what items would be available on our menu, I called many local businesses, grocery stores and restaurants asking for donations to the food stand. My boss was amazed by how many donations we received, and all we had to do was ask.
We also learned this lesson the day we were sent to the downtown area of town to sell tickets for the 4-H Pork Chop BBQ. This is an annual fundraiser that we have during the 4-H Show. My co-worker and I were able to sell more than 20 tickets in about 2 hours just by asking the employees at local businesses.
- Every fair is different
One of the highlights of the summer was attending county fairs and 4-H shows. Specifically, I attended and helped at Whiteside County’s 4-H Show and Lee County’s 4-H and Junior Show.
I grew up with the Whiteside County 4-H Show being one of the busiest and most fun weeks of my summer, so to have the opportunity to help facilitate that for other kids was an amazing experience. As I mentioned, one of my responsibilities as summer staff was running the food stand. My co-workers and I got there early, made sure the food was cooked, and oversaw the volunteers that worked in the food stand each shift. We also helped in other areas of the show by assisting judges, answering questions and filling in wherever we were needed.
Similarly, I helped with many of the same things in Lee County. However, I got to learn how their show is set up and organized in a completely different way. That was a bit of a challenge, but also a lot of fun!
8. Rabbits, cats, and dogs, oh my!
Some of the most unique things I got to do during the 4-H Shows was helping run animal shows that I had never even watched before. I helped run a rabbit show, a cat show, and a dog show. Those were definitely skills I never thought I would gain. However, those activities did teach me valuable skills of being observant to notice how the different classes fit together. It also taught me to be confident even when I was being pushed out of my comfort zone. It definitely went with the 4-H slogan, “Learning by Doing.”
- I miss 4-H
Finally, my summer job helped me realize how important 4-H was in my childhood. 4-H was always something that was part of my life and specifically, a large part of my summer. Helping run the 4-H Show reminded me of everything I learned during the show when I was a 4-Her. I also remembered my 4-H days as my co-workers and I practiced and prepared the crafts that we did with the kids in some of the camps.
Now is a great time to be looking back on the impact 4-H has had on my life from my Cloverbud years to my summer job because it’s National 4-H Week!
Overall, I had a great summer full of learning experiences. I loved the opportunity I had to work on “making the best better” in the kids I was working with and in myself.