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4-H Graduate Spotlight

Youth walking across a field

Soon to be Chipley High School graduates and 4-H alumni – Connor and Dylan

The graduation countdown is on for Dylan Rudd and Connor Barrett.  Sure Shots 4-H Club members for over six years, these guys have grown up together on the range of Hard Labor Creek Shooting Sports.

Both Connor and Dylan are excellent marksman and were on the state winning shotgun team this year and have amassed numerous individual awards in skeet, trap and sporting clays.  While their skills have grown, competition has never gotten in the way of friendship and the sense of team that’s been the key to success with the Sure Shots club.

They’ve served as mentors to their teammates – coaching them through tough spots, giving them advice and always being helpful on and off the range.

I distinctly remember Dylan and Connor talking to my oldest son, Cole, at his second state shotgun match.  Nerves were getting to him, so Connor and Dylan talked to him, told him to concentrate and focus on what he knew and to quit looking back at his dad after every shot. That interaction did more for him than any talking-to his coaches could have done for him at that match.

Youth walking with shotgun over his shoulder.

Dylan participating in the 2014 club match.

Youth shooting a skeet target.

Conner in his first year as a Sure Shots 4-H Club member.

That team mentality has been present with both of these guys since I’ve known them.  They totally get that individual scores are a huge deal in shooting sports.  They’ve competed against each other in countless 4-H competitions and matches outside of 4-H, but at the end of the day, they are teammates.

Outside of 4-H, both Dylan and Connor are talented members of the Chipley High School band and maintain a rigorous course load to prepare them for careers in the engineering field.

 

We wish these guys the greatest success in college and can’t wait to see where their lives take them!
Mrs. Julie & Coaches Andy Fleener, Gary Clark, Nick Dillard & Sam Rudd

Making Forever Memories at 4-H Summer Camp

Making friends at 4-H Camp in the early 1990’s (Melanie Taylor, Gulf County 4-H Agent, on right)

4-H Summer Camp preparations are in full swing all over the state. As a 4-H agent preparing for our week of county  4-H camp, my days are busy with phone calls and emails from parents, teen counselor training, adult volunteer screenings, paperwork, paperwork and more paperwork. Although it’s busy time for me as a 4-H agent, it also allows me to reflect why I chose this career path and why there is a sense of nostalgia as I prepare for 4-H camp.

Camp Memories

I grew up in Virginia and attended 4-H camp every year from age 9-18.  I was a camper that grew into a counselor-in-training and then a full-fledged counselor. Those weeks of 4-H camp were filled with hot days and warm nights, but it was worth it all for the memories I’ll have for a lifetime.  I can still smell the cafeteria food and hear the sounds in the gymnasium as kids played basketball and pounded at their leather-craft projects. I still get the chills when I think about our entire camp singing around the campfire circle and patiently waiting for a canoe, filled with camp staff, to land on the lakes edge.  The staff would enter the campfire circle carrying the flame and ceremoniously light the fire.  I’m still connected with my 4-H camp friends through social media and/or as close friends, and we continue to share our old, blurry camp pictures from the 1990’s each year on Facebook.

4-H Flag raised

Memories to Last a Lifetime…

This is why I work hard to prepare camp for my county campers and teen counselors – I want to create similar memories for them. In 10, 20 or 30 years from now, I want them to think back on the fun moments they experienced in the Florida 4-H camping program. I want them to form friendships and make camp connections for a lifetime, whether it’s learning to kayak, fish, making arts and crafts, cooking over a campfire, singing camp songs and much more.

With all of this said, I hope you as parents will consider giving your child(ren) these special moments.  The days are long, but fun, and nights are filled with campfires and hanging out with friends. When they arrive home on Friday, they’ll be exhausted but so excited to share all of the camp songs with you (prepare yourself for lots of loud, enthusiastic singing).  They’ll have new friends they want you to meet and tell you camp stories they’ll always cherish.

When is Your County Camping?

In northwest Florida, there are two 4-H Camps:
4-H Camp Timpoochee in Niceville and 4-H Camp Cherry Lake in Madison.
Each county in these camping districts has one week of camp each summer.  Contact your local UF/IFAS Extension Office now
to find out the details and register your child for a week of fun and memories!

4-H Alumnae Reconnect through Love of Horses

Russell and Julie McMillian, Gulf County 4-H Alumnae and 4-H Leaders

Russell and Julie McMillian both grew up in Gulf County and together have established a thriving business based on their love of horses.  They now own a small farm in Dalkeith, just south of Wewahitchka, and their business Rockin’ M Ranch, consists of horseback riding lessons for beginners and beach rides for tourists and locals alike along the beautiful beaches of Cape San Blas.

How did this all begin?  Russell and Julie both grew up as Gulf County 4-H members of the Big River Riders 4-H Club.  They both participated in a variety of 4-H programs; including Horse Camp, Camp Timpoochee, Congress (now known as 4-H University), District Events, North Florida Fair Ag Judging, Area A and State 4-H Horse Shows, etc.  They both learned the values of 4-H through learning how to raise and compete with their animals, agricultural commodities, leadership skills, public speaking, community service, good decision making skills, and much more…

As adults, they both went in separate directions, but still maintained their love of horses and the farm life.  Russell began his career in flooring and tile work, while Julie received her education degree and taught Kindergarten at Wewahitchka Elementary School.  After reconnecting as adults, they married on September 25, 2010 and turned their passion for horses into a full-time love by creating their own business, Rockin’ M Ranch.  Russell still does flooring, tile work on the side, and helps his grandparents with their hay business.  Julie decided to leave the teaching field, and she manages their business full time.  She began giving beach rides on the Cape at the age of 14 and still loves it as much today.

Julie and Russell McMillian pictured with Brooke (left) and Hayleigh (right).

Russell began his time with 4-H at the age of 12 and Julie was 8 years old.  As members of the Big River Riders 4-H Club, they adored their 4-H leaders, Mr. Jesse Eubanks and Ms. Jean McMillian (Russell’s grandmother), and the Gulf County Extension Director, Roy L. Carter (now retired), whose passion for horses was contagious.  Julie explained that she was a very shy child and that participating in public speaking for District Events really helped her come out of her shell.  They both loved learning the values of the four H’s: Head, Heart, Hands, and Health.  They feel 4-H has helped them develop into productive adults with good decision-making skills and in-stilled in them the importance of giving back to their community.  They have served as 4-H volunteers for the Big River Rider’s 4-H Club since Russell’s daughters joined 4-H years ago; Brooke (17) and Hayleigh (15) also ride horses and have competed in a variety of Gulf County 4-H programs throughout the years. Russell and Julie have also taught a variety of horse riding classes at multiple Gulf County 4-H day camps.

As 4-H and community leaders, their most important goal is to give back to the community that gave to them as 4-Hers growing up here. They really love introducing new riders to the love of horses and 4-H.  On any day, Russell and Julie can be found throughout the county at various events supporting 4-H members and any youth for that matter.

When asked what advice she has for someone thinking about becoming a 4-H volunteer she said, “Do not have regrets…just do it. Do not be scared off by the fingerprinting and application process.  It is quick and easy, and maintains the safety for you and the children.  Get started! 4-H is a great opportunity for youth and adults.”

“As a 4-H extension agent, you can only hope to find 4-H volunteers as dedicated as Russell and Julie McMillian.  Their passion and love of 4-H is infectious and draws in youth looking for a place to belong.”  -Melanie Taylor, Gulf County 4-H Agent

For more information about Rockin’ M Ranch, please go to http://www.therockinmranch.com/.  For more information about how to become involved in 4-H, either as a youth member or adult volunteer, visit florida4h.org or contact your local UF IFAS County Extension Office.  4-H offers a variety of roles for volunteers to share their passions, skills and interests.

 

Plan to Purple Up on April 21st

April is the Month of The Military Child! When we think of honoring our military, we often think of Memorial Day and Veterans Day. Did you know there is also a time identified to honor our youngest heroes, military children? Since 1986, April has been designated Month of the Military Child. This allows us to honor military children and their families for their commitment and sacrifice. In Florida, we have over 94K active and reserve military members whose families worry that they are in harm’s way when they deploy. Most people think of the color green when they think of 4-H, but on April 21st, 4-H youth and volunteers in Florida and Nationally will be sporting the color purple to show support for our military families.
Here locally we want you to join us in showing your support and to celebrate our young heroes! Participate in the 7th annual Purple Up! For Military Kids. Wear purple on Friday, April 21st, as a visible way to show support and thank military children for their strength and sacrifices. Why purple? Purple is the color that symbolizes all branches of the military, as it is the combination of Army green, Coast Guard blue, Air Force blue, Marine red and Navy blue.
The goal is for our military youth to see the support of their community. Please join us in honoring these young heroes as we Purple Up! For Military Kids on April 21st! Be creative….the goal is for military youth to see the support in their school, youth groups, and the community! If you don’t have or own a purple shirt wear a purple ribbon, tie, headband etc. Just show your support and let our youth know we care about them! Can’t make the 21st ? Then do something another day in April. We would like to encourage you to take pictures of your group wearing purple and share them on social media using #fl4h, #purpleup.

The Impact Ag Judging Had on Me

Here in North Florida, as the dogwood trees start to turn colors and drop their leaves and I wait for the first cool breezes of a seemingly delayed Autumn I often find my memory is easily awoken by hints of past falls.

As a teen I participated for several years in the Agricultural Judging contest on the Wakulla County 4-H team. I fondly remember sticking my nose into a bail of bahia grass hay to check it for freshness. I can still recall my nerves as I stood silently beside my peers, clipboard in hand, intently looking over hogs and heifers rating them by confirmation and preparing the oral reasons to defend my decisions. The feel of oats in my hand as I compared and contrasted the merits of several samples.

The lessons I learned in Ag Judging stayed with me. It was one of my first introductions to the science of Agriculture. As a 4-H Horse project kid before my participation in the contest I had never stopped to consider many of the other aspects of agriculture that informed and supported my interest in horses and my horses themselves.

Understanding how to recognize and judge the grain and hay I fed my animals daily sparked an even greater understanding and interest in agriculture as a whole. Learning to judge other livestock piqued my interest in equine judging and led me to compete in that event at the state level and even win a state judging division one year. Once I was able to drive, my experience in judging agricultural commodities gave my parents the confidence to send me to buy the large amounts of hay and grain needed to keep the horses at our family’s boarding stables happy and fit. One less chore for them to have to worry about.

In college as an agricultural student I found that the 4-H judging programs I had participated in had prepared me perfectly for the practical lab tests in class. I discovered that they were set up in the same format as the 4-H programs I had been in just a few years before. 4-H helped me prepare for college by giving me practice in the exact kind of tests and exams as I would face in almost every practical agricultural lab I would end up taking.

Reading this some might think that the Agricultural Judging contest sounds great for a farm boy or girl looking to have a career in agriculture but it may not be for me or for my 4-H’er. They may change their minds after considering the life skills learned. The ability to think on your feet and the independence to rely on personal knowledge when making decisions are vital real world examples. These are the exact positive life skills that 4-H judging competitions teach and hone in young people.

Long-time Leon County 4-H Agent Marcus Boston says that he has, “seen the positive difference that 4-H has on young people. Agricultural judging teaches independent thinking. Youth have to make choices based off what they know and can’t ask for someone else to decide for them. That’s what you have to do every day as an adult.” Mr. Boston has been organizing the Ag Judging program at the North Florida fair since I was participating in the early 2000’s. That kind of dedication speaks to a real belief in the benefits and results of a program.

The youth who participate in the program can anticipate judging categories that will be chosen from the following:

  • Beef (Steers)
  • Poultry
  • Corn (shelled)
  • Oats
  • Heifers (Beef)
  • Perennial Peanut Hay
  • Soybeans
  • Grass Hays (e.g. Bahia, orchard grass)

Since different categories depend on availability and community support participants should be prepared for all of the categories.

If coaching or participating in an ag judging team appeals to you, contact your local UF IFAS County Extension Office or visit http://florida4h.org.  You can find out more about ag judging at these links: