New 4-H focuses on leadership development

Members of this year?s initial iLEAD group are: front row (from left), Taylor Harms, Katey Ehrlich, Lauren Geis and Beth Riffel; back row, Chad Mueller, Karl Riffel, Bryce Roberts, Nicholas Meyer, Kim Harms. ?We saw this core group of kids that have loads of potential and have lots of things in common, and decided we needed to put something officially in place to focus on developing (leadership),? Riffel said.

Leadership development is the central purpose of a new program the Marion County 4-H clubs installed this year.

Made up of 11 4-Hers age 12 and up that are enrolled in livestock projects, iLEAD is in its pilot year. According to sponsors Beth Riffel and Kim Harms, it has already been successful.

Riffel, a Marion County native and editor of the Manhattan-based Grass & Grain newspaper, said she and Harms felt there needed to be more leadership training in the local 4-H program.

?There hasn?t been a lot of leadership development activities in the Marion County 4-H program,? Riffel said. ?Kim and I both grew up in Marion County 4-H back in the dark ages, and remembered some of the leadership development things we did, and how we grew and developed into the people we are today.

?We saw this core group of kids that have loads of potential and have lots of things in common, and decided we needed to put something officially in place to focus on developing (leadership).?

Harms, who operates Harms Plainview Ranch with husband Mark, said, ?We saw the opportunity to start a new leadership program in 4-H that would take everything a step further.?

Participating in the initial iLEAD program are: Katey Ehrlich, Marion Middle School; Ethan Franz, Hillsboro High School; Lauren Geis, Hillsboro Middle School; Taylor Harms, Marion High School; Nicholas Meyer, MMS; Chad Mueller, Centre Middle School; Ethan Oborny, HMS; Tanner Petterson, CMS; Karl Riffel, CMS; Bryce Roberts, HMS and Maci Scheluber, HMS.

iLEAD stands for ?learning, excelling, achieving and dreaming??the focal points for the program that the iLead 4-Hers helped choose.

?That encompasses the things we wanted the group to be able to learn,? Riffel said. ?It?s a lot of fun. We want to set goals and we want to achieve those goals, and you?ve got to dream big. So we put this group together with that core idea.?

Riffel said the current group of 4-Hers enrolled in the livestock programs made it a good time to implement this program.

?There was a group of older livestock kids that had a lot of similar interests,? she said. ?Due to the fact that there wasn?t a county-wide leadership program in place, we decided to take the group and apply some leadership training.?

Part of the leadership training for iLEAD included the Livestock Quality Assurance program, which is a show ring and ethics program for livestock projects based on the six pillars of character, Riffel said.

Harms added that she hopes the program will also give 4-H members the incentive to stay in their clubs once they begin their busy high school years.

?We picked this age group because once kids reach high school, they have opportunities to do lots of other activities,? Harms said. ?We hope that by being involved in a more intense livestock project, the kids can take ownership in 4-H, and we can retain them for the next few years.?

Although leadership was the central focus of the iLEAD program, the ultimate reward for the 4-H students will be when they show their livestock at the premium auction at the Marion County Fair later this month.

?The project (for iLEAD) this year was to market the livestock premium auction during the fair,? Riffel said. ?The highlight of the 4-H year for many of the market animal projects is the opportunity to participate in the 4-H premium auction.?

Riffel and Harms used the auction as one more way to teach the youth about leadership. iLEAD members are responsible to make advertisements such as flyers and brochures, visit area businesses and tell business owners about the iLEAD program and the livestock they are preparing to show at the premium auction.

But just as important as the business-end of the livestock project is the care for the animals that the 4-Hers were responsible for over the past several months.

?Livestock kids have a lot of responsibility with their projects,? Riffel said. ?The cattle projects start in the fall, and sheep, hog and goat projects start after the first of the year.

?(The kids) provide the daily care, feed and water the animals, train them how to stand and walk in the show ring, prepare them for shows by washing and trimming and grooming, and finally actually showing the animals for the judge.?

Riffel said that after the auction, the process starts all over again when the kids use the money they got from the auction to begin preparing for next year?s premium show.

?Those funds are used to help pay for their projects, cover feed costs, purchase animals for next year and help build college education funds,? she said.

Harms said not all of the rewards come directly from showing the animals. 4-Hers also learn how to make a good first impression.

?The biggest thing we focus on is becoming strong role models,? Harms said.

?By teaching ethics and integrity in livestock showing, we hope the kids transfer those traits into whatever else they decide to do in life.

?Rural America is losing the younger generations by the truckload because it is a difficult industry to be in,? she added. ?We hope to teach these kids that the work they put into whatever they do is the true reward.?

Riffel said the first year of iLEAD has been successful.

?It?s given the kids a chance to get to know other kids better that might show other species,? Riffel said. ?They have a common project to work on together.?

Next year, iLEAD will focus more attention on setting more personal goals and achieving more individual growth in each of the kids, she said.

Harms said she and Riffle want the 4-Hers to become successful in whatever they end up doing with their lives.

?We want these kids to become strong leaders and have opportunities to do whatever they want to do, whether it?s in agriculture or not.?

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