October may signify a time of ghosts, goblins and bright orange pumpkins for some people, but for those involved in 4-H, October marks the beginning of a new year. This week marks National 4-H Week, a time when clubs throughout the Valley are busy signing up new members and getting ready to start another year of competition and camaraderie.
Mike and Sue Wedam, co-leaders of the Green Valley 4-H Club, explained that the organization is a group that promotes community involvement, responsibility and teaching members real life skills.
Mrs. Wedam said Green Valley 4-H is a club that does more than just take part in different agricultural competitions. She noted that the club's 25 members are involved in everything from showing animals to taking part in cooking and photography competitions.
One of the non-agricultural competitions her club has participated in is a cooking contest. Mrs. Wedam said one year her daughter Julie partnered with Corrin Veiga to take part in the cooking competition at the state level, which takes place at the Puyallup fair. She said the two girls not only had to cook a meal, but they also had to sit and eat with the judges, use their manners, and properly clean up afterward. Mrs. Wedam added that the two also had to keep records noting the costs of the meal and how it fit into the food pyramid.
Every 4-H competition, no matter whether it is raising a rabbit or taking photographs, requires members to keep a detailed record book. The book includes everything from information on budgeting to details about how the project was completed.
Mr. Wedam noted that a 4-H member can't exhibit any project without keeping a record book.
Although the Green Valley 4-H Club includes members that take part in a variety of competitions, there are other 4-H groups in the Lower Valley that are very specialized. Sunny Valley Saddlers 4-H Club, led by Karen Tucker, is a group that includes 21 members who compete in nothing but horse competitions.
Tucker said this time of year her club meets on the fourth Monday of every month at Sunnyside Community Hospital. She noted that in the spring and summer, the group meets every Monday at Van de Graaf ranches, which gives members a chance to ride their horses regularly.
Tucker said the members of her 4-H club traditionally take part in performance competitions, which are events where both the rider and the horse can be judged for their performance in the ring. However, this past year the group tried their hand at gaming competitions.
Tucker said they hosted their first gaming show, during which riders take part in different competitions from maneuvering around barrels to flag races.
To prepare for the competition, Tucker said her club brought in a gaming instructor to put on a gaming clinic for its members. She noted that club members took part in two clinics before the competition.
Besides learning new skills in the horse arena members of Tucker's club have also learned a lot about horses outside of the arena. She said they have programs at each of their meetings, and recently members had a chance to listen to a presentation by an equine dentist, as well as take part in a saddle fitting demonstration. The members also had a chance to take a field trip to Paulson Thoroughbred Ranch near Granger.
Tucker's daughter, Kimber, a member of the club, said the visit to the thoroughbred ranch gave her a chance to see the operation up close and see how the business was set up. She noted that the tour also gave club members a chance to pet the foals.
Besides learning about different aspects of what 4-H involves, the nearly one dozen clubs located in the Lower Yakima Valley also take part in community service projects.
Mrs. Wedam said the Green Valley 4-H Club puts together Christmas stockings during the holidays every year. Each member helps make the different stockings, then they take them home and fill them with gifts for a member of a needy family. Mrs. Wedam said last year the club delivered the stockings to St. Joseph's Catholic Church and the Salvation Army.
Members of the Sunny Valley Saddlers 4-H Club have adopted a Marine who is stationed overseas. Tucker said her club regularly sends care packages to the young man who is stationed in Baghdad.
"We wanted him to know that people care about him and about his squad," Tucker said.
Something else that is unique about 4-H is the range of ages that is included in each club. Mrs. Wedam noted that children can join the clubs when they are as young as six or seven, and people can be in 4-H until they are 18-years-old.
Mrs. Wedam said this wide range of ages means that often times older members can be found helping younger members and working together.
Chelsea Skyles, the oldest member of the Lower Valley Livestock 4-H Club, said 4-H is about teamwork and helping the younger members is a part of that.
"Your club has to work together," Skyles said.
She added that she enjoys lending a helping hand to younger members of her club, noting that when she was younger she remembers getting a lot of help from the older members. Skyles has been a member of Lower Valley Livestock since she was in the third grade.
Overall, Skyles said 4-H has taught her a lot of responsibility, as well as the skills needed to take care of an animal. She said she has also learned a lot about work ethics.
She noted that if you slack off, especially when it comes to taking part in an animal competition, it shows, and it's no one's fault but your own.
Mr. Wedam said the club also teaches its members important life skills, like how to present yourself in front of a group.
The Wedams noted that club members learn everything from how to stay within a budget to how to properly conduct a meeting.
"It's life skills," Mr. Wedam said. "It's getting them prepared to be adults."