I was in fifth grade when the announcement was made that a meeting of the 4-H club was being held that day.
Not exactly sure what the 4-H club was, I went.
It was the beginning of a relationship that has lasted a lifetime.
Because of its roots, there is a misconception that 4-H is only about livestock and growing crops.
My first demonstration project was about the importance of directional signs on the highways.
Mr. Harry Adams, who was the postmaster of Social Circle and a family friend, helped me create a giant poster board with all of the different types of signs. I looked quite impressive as I carried it into Monroe High School for the big county competition. He also coached me a bit on my speech, which was written out on 3-by-5-inch note cards.
But it was not about winning, it was about gaining confidence, learning discipline and responsibility.
A year later, my dad and I scoured a junk yard in search of a complete brake system of a car, including the master cylinder and all the ingredients to make a car stop.
We painted each part a different color. My dad taught me all about how hydraulic brakes worked. We mounted the whole thing on a big piece of plywood and made it functional.
I stood up for seven minutes and explained it from start to finish.
I proudly wore my green 4-H jacket and, on special occasions, my clip-on 4-H tie.
We were a part of something special and we really didn’t know it would last a lifetime. It was in 4-H that I developed friendships that continue today.
4-H introduced me to camp, as well as gnats. I went to 4-H camp in Savannah. They had an ample quantity of both gnats and mosquitoes, not to mention water that smelled like rotten eggs.
It was at 4-H camp that I danced with a cute little curly haired girl from some other county. We danced to “Rainy Days and Mondays,” by a new duo called The Carpenters. She kissed me on the cheek and called me cute. I never saw her again.
I also went to camp at Rock Eagle, the great 4-H camp near Eatonton. We had a great time doing things like dancing to Red Foley’s “Salty Dog Rag,” in a forerunner to modern line dancing.
I’ve seen the good work of 4-H as an adult.
For several years, I was part of a horse show in Dawson, just outside Albany. It is a rural, heavily impoverished county. 4-H was something that brought black and white people together. The local Masonic Lodge cooked barbecue, the ladies made cakes and it was all done to help a struggling 4-H program.
What’s amazing is that the graduation rate among 4-H club members is 92 percent. That’s a strong statement about the value of 4-H.
Ironically, next door to where the horse show was held was a county prison camp. Unlike 4-H camp, you aren’t excited about going there.
It reminds me of that famous oil filter commercial where the mechanic said “You can pay me now or pay me later.”
If we focused a little more on 4-H camp, we might not need as many prison camps.
Are you listening at the Gold Dome?
Harris Blackwood is a columnist for The Times. His column appears every week in Sunday Life.