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Pay it forward: 4-H Program inspires hundreds in SLO to volunteer their skills and passions to youth 

Here’s some local trivia: What is a nearly century-old, volunteer-run organization, that teaches aerospace engineering, animal sciences, and cooking to local youth and brings aid to the homeless, senior citizens, and the troops?

If you didn’t know the answer, allow us to introduce you to the SLO County 4-H Program

Administered through the University of California Cooperative Extension, SLO County 4-H teaches leadership, citizenship, and life skills to SLO youth through the inspired efforts of local adult volunteers.

The program has only two full-time staff members, but it draws 400 adult volunteers and 1,500 youth members all across SLO County. The volunteers and youth belong to any of the 28 different 4-H community clubs in the county.

Dagmar Derickson, a representative of SLO County’s 4-H Program, told New Times that 4-H is a combination of “research-based programming, volunteers’ passion, and youth leadership” that continuously pumps life into an operation that’s been around since the 1920s.

Anyone in the community who has an idea for a project or skill can offer it to the youth in a club. Kids sign up to participate, and the group convenes once a month for six to eight months to work on the project or develop the skill.

“Projects range from raising livestock, to sewing, to cooking, to leadership projects, to arts and crafts, to engineering,” Derickson said. “They are based on the passions of the volunteers. We have curriculum created through our UC system that volunteers can follow, but it’s not required.”

JoAnn Overbey, a Los Osos resident and long-time 4-H volunteer, emphasized that the success of 4-H is entirely dependent on the efforts of the volunteers, who pay forward their time, skills, and knowledge to the youth of SLO County.

“It’s a community effort,” Overbey said. “We couldn’t do it without all of the volunteers.”

Overbey volunteers as a Community Club Leader for a 4-H club in SLO, where she leads 60 youth members in projects and community service activities.

“Community service is big for my club,” she said. “I do a community service activity at every monthly club meeting. It might be putting cookies in baggies for Meals on Wheels, making cards for the Children’s Hospitals, or sending stuff to the troops.”

Youth are also empowered to take charge and have a leadership role. Each October, six teens from various 4-H clubs are selected as SLO County Youth All Stars. On Jan. 9, the Youth All Stars led a presentation skills workshop, where they helped elementary-aged kids improve their confidence speaking in front of crowds.

“It’s really rewarding helping other kids and teaching them about 4-H,” said Mark Dillon Luna, one of the Youth All Stars.

Overbey is the advisor to the Youth All Stars, and she said that her 45-year run volunteering with the program is all thanks to the youth community, which never fails to inspire her.

“These youth are wonderful,” Overbey said. “And the thing that’s great about 4-H is these families are involved right along with their kids. They volunteer too. They’re right there.”

Though 4-H receives funding from the UC system, that support doesn’t go toward funding any of the clubs, projects, and activities. Donations are essential to keeping the good deeds flowing.

“We struggle every year to meet our budget,” Overbey said. “Each club has to raise its own money, and we pay for kids to go to camps and conferences about leadership and citizenship.”

SLO County 4-H welcomes donations and new volunteers. If you’re a parent in the community wanting to participate, or you’re just an adult with a passion you’d like to share with the youth in SLO, give 4-H a call at 781-5943. 

Fast Fact

The SLO Prado Day Center is seeking volunteers and sleeping bag donations for the operation of its winter warming station. Email abailey@capslo.org with any questions. 

Staff Writer Peter Johnson wrote this week’s Strokes. Contact him at pjohnson@newtimesslo.com.

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