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Student ventures at annual 4-H show include robotics, visual arts

SYCAMORE – Speaking in front of crowds used to make Nolan Govig nervous, but 4-H helped him overcome his fear.

The Indian Creek Middle School eighth-grader has been part of one of the 19 4-H youth clubs in DeKalb County for five years. Govig, 13, gained enough confidence through the club to read a paper he wrote at his school’s basketball game. 

“4-H has really helped me to talk in front of crowds,” Govig said. 

Public speaking is not the only skill 4-H helps members develop. Self-driven learning and communication are other skills that some 4-H leaders find important to cultivate in a rapidly changing world.

Those skills were on full display at the organization’s annual 4-H General Project Show in the DeKalb County Farm Bureau building. The show started Wednesday and continues today.

The organization focused on agricultural activities when it began more than 100 years ago. It was meant to educate rural youths and connect them with developing agriculture technology. Some members today have a rural background, such as Govig who works on a farm in Malta. 

4-H now has expanded its service to urban and suburban communities. Their members work on more than 170 types of projects including robotics, computers and the visual arts. 

The organization’s name represents their values: head, heart, hands and health. For the General Project Show this year, 4-H members brought in projects that required their head and hands. The projects included visual arts, photography, clothing and food. In order to be part of 4-H, members have to choose one project to work on for a year.

A conference judge specializing in the kind of project the members choose sits with them and discusses the project. Afterward, the members are awarded a ribbon that represents how well their project met expectations. 

But the quality of the projects themselves is not always the most important aspect of the show. The members are also required to communicate what they learned to the conference judges, said Leslie Shive, a conference judge for cooking and microwave projects. 

“It’s not about the projects so much,” Shive said. “It’s just that they are actually having to talk to someone assuming they have working knowledge of what they did.”

Communication is an important skill that members will use for the rest of their lives, said Johnna Jennings, 4-H youth development educator. The conference judging helps sharpen that skill. 

“One of the things that our kids need to realize is that no matter what they do, they still need to be able to communicate their thoughts and ideas verbally,” Jennings said. 

The organization doesn’t put any limitations on what kind of projects the members can do, said Nicole Groezinger, 4-H program coordinator. It’s up to them to decide what they want to learn and make.

“If they find a project they’re interested in, the sky is the limit,” Groezinger said. 

Shelby Kroeschel, a senior at Indian Creek High School, has been with 4-H for 12 years and several of her projects have been displayed at the Illinois State Fair. For one of her projects she went to Ireland. 

“It’s so much fun doing a different project each year,” Kroeschel said. 

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