4-H learning spans generations

By Ryan Cornell

STRASBURG — What do Roy Rogers, David Letterman and Julia Roberts have in common?

As former members of 4-H, a youth organization with more than six million members across the U.S., they were taught leadership skills through hands-on learning while they were growing up.

In addition to the aforementioned celebrities, 4-H has also shaped countless local farming families.

Holly Dillender, the manager of the Woodbine Farm Market in Strasburg, grew up in a 4-H family. Her mother, aunt and cousin were all leaders in the program.

Dillender remembers meeting for 4-H club at the Relief United Methodist Church in Winchester when she was growing up.

“We learned about leadership, we did some public speaking, we learned about canning and growing vegetables,” she said.

She added that 4-H can be a big commitment, especially if a kid is raising animals for the county fair.

“So the parents really do get involved,” she said. “It’s good for the whole family.”

Greta Liskey, 26, works in the orchards behind the market and often leads school groups on tours through the fields.

She’s been involved in 4-H since she was in Cloverbuds.

“It’s an invaluable program,” she said. “I mean, it teaches youth about livestock, but it also teaches about different homemaking skills. I think some of the most important are the record-keeping skills that they teach and the public speaking.”

She said her 4-H experience has helped prepare her for working at the Woodbine farm.

“Just the work ethic that it teaches at a young age,” she said, “and sticking in there until you get the job done is really an important thing to learn.”

Liskey, who lives in Rockingham County with a 2-year-old daughter of her own, said she plans to get her involved in 4-H when she gets older.

Ruth Boden, whose three sons are involved in Frederick County 4-H, is a volunteer leader and coaches livestock and meats judging teams.

Each county in Virginia, she said, offers a 4-H program, though they might differ in what they specialize in.

For example, clubs in Northern Virginia might focus more on STEM-type projects and robotics, while Shenandoah County provides more agricultural programs.

“There’s so much to offer that there’s just something for everybody,” she said. “We have a Civil War club, a painting group, and anything to do with agriculture, whether it’s livestock, horses, poultry, rabbits, but then we also have a ton of community service groups.

“And so they teach these children great citizenship skills, to be a productive part of their community and to give back, and I think that’s why I’m still involved.”

She said there has been a big resurgence in the areas of canning, food preservation and sewing.

Jim Douglas, who grew up in 4-H back in the ’40s and served as a leader for about 35 years, reflected on how the program has changed over the decades.

“When I grew up, 40 miles away from home was a long way from home,” said the Winchester resident. “Now, 1,000 miles isn’t that far. You get to meet others and know more about the world and what’s going on in the world.”

Boden said 4-H has given her children an opportunity to travel and meet new people.

Her oldest son, Cody, 17, traveled through Scotland, England and Ireland this summer competing in livestock judging with the rest of his team.

“The sky’s the limit in 4-H,” she said. “They might think they’re raising a pig or whatever, but there’s so much more than just raising animals. It’s the responsibility and record keeping and public speaking and just true life skills.”

Contact staff writer Ryan Cornell at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or rcornell@nvdaily.com