It’s been quite a while since I’ve last updated but honestly I’m not sure when I would have found the time. The last four weeks have been filled with 3 sets of overnight trips including Teen Conference, Kentucky Youth Seminar, and 4-H Camp. I’m tired, my suitcase is wore out, and I’ve learned enough to keep me up thinking at night. I could tell you all about these trips I’ve had the chance to experience –trust me I’ve got lots of stories and good times to go on for ages– but instead I’d like to talk about three kids who have made a big impact on my internship.
Now, I’m not sure if there’s always “that kid” on every trip that will make you scratch your head but that has sure been my experience this summer. For privacy sake, I won’t use any of these kid’s real names but you’re in for a long post so just hang tight!
The first experience came during Teen Conference back in the beginning of June. When we were leaving the Conference we had one kid, whom we’ll call “Larry” who couldn’t stop talking about the week. Larry is from the 4-H program at Fort Knox and normally the kids who are involved there move around every couple years so connecting with them is different from connecting with the kids whose great-grandparents grew up in the same county and you go to church with their aunt. They aren’t the kids that join Cloverbuds at 6 years old and go through the program until they age out. Larry was one of these kids who moved a lot –he’s probably lived in more houses than I’ve owned shoes. He was a tad bit awkward and said some of the weirdest things. He wouldn’t even eat in front of other people at first but as the week went on he broke out of his shell. It still seemed like he bonded more with the other agents than he did the other kids but it was a start. This kid –who I’m pretty sure was forced to go on this trip- by the end of the week had talked to his family to find out when they were scheduled to move next and was asking all the other kids if they were coming back next year. His new dream is to get his Gold Award. I didn’t really grow up being involved with 4-H so while I knew 4-H helped out kids across the country, Larry gave me the chance to see firsthand how a four day trip can change a kid’s life.
After such a happy ending the week before, I expected the same thing to happen at our next trip four days later. This was the Kentucky Youth Seminar. It’s a 4-H sponsored, business based event in which soon-to-be seniors in high school would compete in different business oriented tests and scenarios for scholarships. Hardin County took two girls, one was a sweetheart, the other had absolutely no sense of manners. For the purpose of this blog, we’ll call this girl “Hanna”; she was hateful, rude, chewed with her mouth open, walked around barefoot in professional-dress functions, made a mess doing absolutely anything, showed no respect to anyone around her, and while you were talking to her she would put in her headphones and start reading her book. Based on the behavior she showed us, I really don’t have anything nice to say. The final day, Marla and I really wanted coffee but kind of feared Hanna’s reaction to our detour Quietly, we asked our two girls how they’d feel about stopping by to get a coffee, expecting a quick rejection but both happily agreed. We made a beeline for the coffee shop and on the way back, Hanna said “Thanks for taking us to get coffee.” Stunned, Marla and I couldn’t say anything for a moment. That thank-you felt enormous, like we had finally connected somehow. Later that day she won a scholarship and she showed a real smile and some true happiness. At that point I came to the conclusion that Hanna was just shy; that she was nervous this week and now that she had a scholarship she’d loosen up. I was ecstatic! That was until we got in the car on the way home and I asked if she had a good time. Hanna mumbled a “sure”, rolled her eyes and put in her headphones. Here’s the lesson I learned. Not every kid will give you a breakthrough but you can’t let that discourage you. You have to put your all in every kid and hope for the best because you never know who will surprise you.
4-H camp was my latest experience. Now, I went to camp one year and had the rare, very bad experience which led me to never go back. I’m happy to report back that I actually had quite a bit of fun this past week and while I wouldn’t want to go back next week, I would say it has been my favorite week this summer. I taught an Outdoor Cooking class (which also became my Summer Project but that’s for another post) and I got to work with tons of kids including one from the county I’m interning with we’ll refer to as “Jimmy”. Jimmy was different from the other kids. He licked kids on the bus, at one point during the week he didn’t get his way so he ran to the other end of the field and laid face-down in the grass, he’d throw fits over tiny things, the last day he slapped another kid, and he’d look at you and say “I hate this” serious as can be. I put a lot of effort in Jimmy and realized you can’t use the same tactics with everyone. With most kids you can said “Will you please sit in your seat”, other campers require you to look them in the eye and say “Jimmy, sit down or you will not Sally tonight”. While he drove me nuts, I feel like we connected. He’d tell me about his Lego class, his Paper Crafts, Swimming Class, how much he loved making food, and took pictures in the photo booth with me. He didn’t like to Sally himself but he loved watching and I even got him to Sally with me once the last night. But after every time he’d tell anyone something was fun or cool he’d say “but I’m never coming back here. I hate it here!” with a cry in his voice. When his mom showed up to pick him up, he ran to her and I expected him to tell her some cool things he did but the first thing he said was “Mom! That was the worse week of my life!” That broke my heart but as I try to find the silver lining I realize that for some kids, when you take them to camp your goal is for them to have the best week of the summer. For other kids like Jimmy, your goal is to get them through the whole week. I can proudly say we accomplished that goal and while I’ll never get confirmation, I hope Jimmy’s mom gets some of his happy camp stories.
Not every kid a 4-H agent comes in contact with will be the happy story you’d expect. Sometimes, frankly, the actual occurrence is depressing but if there is one thing I’ve learned in the last month is that every kid has their own story. You have to put in what you can and hope and pray they make something good out of it. I know I impacted Larry this summer, and I can only hope that Hanna and Jimmy look back on their trips with some positive thoughts.
*Pictures omitted for the privacy of the 4-H’ers mentioned