4-H: Head, Heart, Hands, and Health
May 2020 Issue
by Rinsha Ballani
Photography (top) by Christian Lee
Growing up, we all had opportunities to get involved in something beyond school that we (hopefully) enjoyed. Whether our interests were to play the clarinet, join the lacrosse team, or to destroy our opponents in chess club, we would usually spend a few hours after our last class of the day meeting with others who helped us focus on building our skills in an area we were passionate about. We called these our after-school activities.
For 17-year-old Kierstyn Holt, 14-year-old Alayna Weilnau, and 11-year-old Lawson Weilnau, their interests involved them in activities that couldn’t quite be classified as “after-school” activities. These siblings have a passion to learn and grow beyond what is known to be typical. They are involved in 4-H, an organization that allows them to take on projects that become a big part of their lives, that they must invest time and energy in each day to see to fruition. These projects numerous life skills that most people take years to develop.
“Engaging youth to reach their fullest potential” is the motto of 4-H, a national organization committed to developing citizenship, leadership, responsibility and life skills in youth through experiential learning programs and a positive youth development approach. Children ages 5 to18 take on projects in areas such as healthy living, civic engagement, STEM, and most commonly, agriculture. To date, 4-H has more than 6 million active participants in its programs, and more than 25 million alumni.
Since beginning 4-H, the three siblings have completed numerous projects, most being raising livestock. Whether it’s chickens, pigs, rabbits, or goats, Kierstyn, Alayna, and Lawson have experienced what it means to find a current owner of one of these animals, purchase them and raise them to be healthy animals ready to compete in a show. Along the way, they are required to partake in record keeping, managing their money, time and effort put into raising these animals. After several months of taking care of their animals and training them to perform different activities, it’s show time!
They are evaluated by how their animal performs. “The judges want to see how we’ve grown,” says Lawson. The project is for us to see how much it really costs to take care of an animal.” Kierstyn, chiming in, shares her perspective: “Not a lot of people want to farm anymore, so this teaches us the importance of growing your own plants and livestock, even if you can’t do it on a big farm. Agriculture is still very important, and it is important that people care about it.” Right now, each sibling is partaking in a goat project, where they will be raising six goats until September.
When asked about what 4-H means to each of them, Alayna jumped up to share, “4-H to me is making new friends and building leadership skills, and making a difference in my community. The goal is to let other kids know there are so many different opportunities no matter what their passion is. I never used to want to talk to a lot of people. I usually don’t go to camp without friends, and this past year I went without knowing anyone. I was nervous and homesick at first, but as I went along, I gained a lot of leadership skills and met a lot of people, and it opened me up more. I want to keep doing 4-H until I can’t do it anymore and use these skills everywhere in my life.”
Having been involved in 4-H as kids themselves, parents Emilee Conner and Craig Weilnau saw the importance of having their children involved from an early age. When they moved to Beaufort, it was no easy task to begin raising livestock as the project had requested. “We had to travel a lot,” said Emilee, “such as going to Charleston for their rabbits and Hampton County for their chickens. We also travel several hours to get to the shows. But it’s all so worth it because I see my kids growing and learning important skills such as communication, time management, becoming detail oriented, and seeing a project through to completion, that I know is only going to help them in their futures.”
What career do you want to take on in the future?
Lawson (age 11): “I want to start a music career. I sing. I actually make up my own songs and write them down in a book, then my friends and I sing them together.”
Alayna (age 14): “Most people think since I’m so interested in animals that I’m going to be a vet. But I’ve decided I want to be an archaeologist. We’ve learned about the Aztecs, Incans and Mayans in school, but after spending so much time with these animals, I want to find out more of what they’ve done for us, too.”
Kierstyn (age 17): “I am going into neonatal nursing in the fall.”