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2021 Heart of 4-H Award Winners

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Heart of 4-H Winner - Emalea Dean
January: Emalea Dean

For five years, Emalea has contributed to Lancaster County 4-H. She helps the following 4-H clubs as a parent volunteer:

  • Clever Clovers — helping with meetings and 4-H projects, as well as hosting club parties.
  • Rabbits R Us — hosting meetings and helping with service projects such as the dunk tank fundraiser.
  • 4 On The Floor dog club — she plans to contribute more when meetings resume.

“I like being a 4-H volunteer because I love to watch the 4-H’ers learn and grow with new skills and talents. Many of the skills that kids learn from 4-H are lifetime skills. I think about my three girls learning beginning cooking and sewing skills, and know that they will use those skills for the rest of their lives. As a 4-H volunteer, you encourage 4-H’ers to lead meetings and projects, and in turn, that teaches them the skills of leadership and public speaking. Finally, the best part of being a 4-H volunteer is walking around the fair and seeing the projects on display or watching the 4-H’ers present their project or animal in front of a judge and audience. I have a couple of favorite experiences:

  • Working the food booth at the county fair and seeing the kids excited to help others and thanking customers for supporting 4-H.
  • Working service projects — Planting flowers at a local nursing home in the springtime so that the residences had beautiful planters to enjoy by summertime.”
Laura Cook
February: Laura Cook

Laura has volunteered for 4-H in a wide variety of ways since 2014:

  • Parent volunteer and current leader of the Go Go Goat Getters 4-H club which gives non-farm youth the opportunity to help raise and show a dairy goat.
  • Parent volunteer for the Pick-a-Pig 4-H club which gives non-farm youth the opportunity to help raise and show a pig.
  • Helps 4-H at the Lancaster County Super Fair with setting up static exhibit displays, during the Dairy Goat and Swine shows, as well as staffing shifts at 4-H Council’s food stand.
  • Assists with 4-H Clover College’s Giddy Goats workshop.
  • Helps the Go Go Goat Getters club provide a booth at Kiwanis Karnival.

“It’s fun to see the kids learn so much, make great friends and give back to their community,” she says. “I have also made many lasting friendships through 4-H. It’s a great way to spend time with my kids. I love interacting with the public at the fair as well as other events. It’s fun to educate others while you have a fun conversation! I would encourage everyone to get involved in 4-H — the rewards are great!”

Whitney Lehn
March: Whitney Lehn

Whitney has gone above and beyond her duties as FFA advisor of Raymond Central to help with 4-H/FFA events and activities. She has volunteered with 4-H over 13 years — since aging out of 4-H. Whitney helps in the showring during the 4-H/FFA Beef Show at the Lancaster County Super Fair. She helps in numerous counties coaching Livestock Judging teams, helping with livestock shows, judging herdsmanship, judging static exhibits and more.

“I enjoyed 4-H when I was growing up,” she says. “This gives me a chance to give back and help others with what I learned in 4-H. My favorite experience as a 4-H volunteer is being in the showring helping the youth and coaching teams. Livestock (beef cattle specifically) is my background and it is always a great day seeing everyone excited for show day to see all their hard work. My 4-H and FFA experiences are a major reason why I became an agriculture teacher and FFA advisor.”

James Blake
April: James Blake

James has gone above and beyond his duties as Director of Strategic Initiatives and Focus Programs at Lincoln Public Schools (LPS) to help with 4-H school enrichment programs. For seven years, he has worked with Lancaster County 4-H staff to coordinate the delivery of these programs for LPS.

“Through my unique role in LPS overseeing K–12 science curriculum from 2014–2020, I have worked closely with 4-H as part of my day job,” James says. “Examples in elementary curriculum: Lancaster County Embryology 4-H school enrichment program, Garbology and Earth Wellness Festival. With high school, we have the potential to partner with 4-H as we design the Early College and Career STEM program at Northeast opening fall of 2022. I appreciate the hands-on experience that 4-H brings to LPS students. When I go out and observe the 4-H staff presenting to elementary students, they always bring with them a component of discovery and curiosity.”

Rusty & Heidi Hanley
May: Rusty & Heidi Hanley

Rusty and Heidi have volunteered as project leaders for 10 years with the Lincoln Shooting Stars, a 4-H shooting sports club. Rusty and Heidi coach youth in archery, rifle and muzzleloader. They have helped at several local and state matches for all disciplines, as well as the 4-H Shooting Sports National Championships, which are currently held in Grand Island.

They said, “We like being 4-H volunteers because we get to see youth progress from a sometimes bashful and shy youth, to a confident and proud individual. They build thinking and organizing skills. The shooting sports world is fun and exciting, and we like teaching youth the safe handling of firearms and archery equipment. Our favorite experience is seeing the smiles on the kids faces after a successful match when the hard work they put in has paid off.”

Jen & Jesse Metcalf
June: Jen & Jesse Metcalf

Jen and Jesse have volunteered for 4-H about 8 years, assisting with the 4-H rabbit show at the Lancaster County Super Fair, which consists of 11 events spanning 3 days. They also help at the annual spring rabbit show and with the South Prairie 4-H rabbit club. Jen is currently the leader of the South Prairie club. Jesse is a former leader of the club and serves on the Lancaster County 4-H Rabbit Volunteers in Program Service (VIPS) committee.

Jen says, “I like watching the kids get excited and learn new things about rabbits. My favorite experience as a 4-H volunteer is being at the Lancaster County Super Fair.”

Jesse says, “I like working with other adults who are passionate about 4-H and about helping youth. I like helping others while learning new things myself.”

Marti Thomson
July: Marti Thomson

Marti is currently co-leader of the Sew Green 4-H club which focuses on sewing and community service. She has also assisted with the Rabbits R Us club, helped set up for static exhibits at the Lancaster County Super Fair, and helped staff shifts at the 4-H food stand at fair.

She says, “It is so much fun to see the kids receive the rewards for all of their hard work! And not just the ribbons, but the joy and satisfaction they get for serving the community, and doing a job well. I love watching them grow and become confident in their own abilities and talents. They have so much potential and it is amazing to see how much they have to offer the community. These children really are the future. My favorite experience has been talking with children at the fair and seeing them interact with the public. Their enthusiasm for sharing their knowledge about their projects and the animals is just wonderful! They are great ambassadors for the agricultural community and the state of Nebraska.”

John Croghan
August: John Croghan

John has volunteered with the Nebraska 4-H dog project in Buffalo and Custer counties for about 8 years. Three years ago, he started the 4 On The Floor 4-H dog club in Lancaster County and is the organizational leader. He volunteers with the 4-H dog obedience/showmanship and agility shows at the Lancaster County Super Fair. He has also judged 4-H dog shows at various county fairs.

“It is really fun to watch all of the kids grow up with their dogs,” John says. “Their relationship changes in the best way with their four-legged friend. Dog training is a lifelong skill — I also appreciate that specifically about this project. It was particularly fulfilling when a dog club member in Buffalo County went on to lead her own club, and then do some judging as well. I love watching a young 4-H’er who is maybe a little quiet and shy when they start, blossom into a really confident, young handler. It is particularly rewarding when I know a youth has put in a lot of hard work and they receive a purple ribbon — or potentially win best of show. This falls in line with the 4-H motto which is to 'make the best better.' Our youth are the best, and it is really fulfilling watching them become even better!”

John Higgins
September: Tim & Jenny Higgins

Tim and Jenny have volunteered for 4-H for 10 years in a variety of roles:

  • Amy is a project leader with the Tails N’ Trails 4-H horse club in Lancaster County, and Tim is a parent volunteer. Both help with club community service projects, such as painting the Salt Creek Wranglers arena.
  • Tim has been an announcer at the 4-H/FFA Livestock Premium Auction at the Lancaster County Super Fair.
  • They were leaders of the Dynamic 4-H club in Saline County.
  • They helped plant the Raising Nebraska outdoor garden at Fonner Park in Grand Island.

Tim says, “I like being a 4-H volunteer because I want to be sure every family has the best 4-H experience. Our family would not be a 4-H family if it were not for other volunteers, so I make sure to give back by volunteering myself. You also get to experience some amazing things and meet some great people as a volunteer that you wouldn’t otherwise. My favorite experience as a 4-H volunteer was planting the Raising Nebraska outdoor garden in 2015 with Jenny and Caraline [daughter]. We spent the entire day planting fruit trees in the Nebraska-shaped garden. Every time we go back to Raising Nebraska, we get to see those trees and recall the experience.”

Jenny says, “I like being a 4-H volunteer because it is a way I can give back to our youth. I enjoy watching the kids learn and grow through their work with animals and projects. 4-H offers so many opportunities to kids with and without livestock. I want as many people as possible to be able to experience 4-H and grow in what is interesting to them.”

JJ & Amy Frink
October: JJ & Amy Frink

JJ & Amy have volunteered with Lancaster County 4-H for nearly five years. They help co-lead the Rusty Spurs 4-H horse club and previously helped with the Boots N Hooves 4-H horse club as parent volunteers. At the Lancaster County Super Fair, they are superintendents of the 4-H Roping/Working Ranch show and help set up for many other horse shows.

“We like being 4-H volunteers because we get to watch the kids grow and learn with their horse projects year by year,” Amy said. “Our favorite experience as 4-H volunteers is seeing the kids faces when they win a class.”

4-H staff member Kate Pulec said, “This year at the Super Fair, JJ and Amy helped at the 4-H horse shows whenever and wherever there was a need. They helped set up and tear down the jumping show and miniature horse show. For years, they have supplied the goats for goat tying and do not charge 4-H.”

Jamie Wood
November: Jamie Wood

Jamie has volunteered about 15 years as a superintendent of the 4-H Food & Nutrition areas at the Lancaster County Super Fair. She first volunteered with her mother at the fair because her mother is a long-time friend of Barb Suing, the lead superintendent of the food areas. Helping at fair became an annual mother-daughter experience for them, and eventually, Jamie became a superintendent. This year, Jamie’s son helped at the fair, so the “family affair” continues into the next generation. Jamie has also helped at 4-H Council’s food stand at county fair.

“I like being a 4-H volunteer because I enjoy seeing how excited kids get when talking about their projects,” Jamie says. “I’ve seen a lot of youth grow up over the years and have enjoyed getting to know them.”

Julia Plugge
December: Julia Plugge

A parent volunteer for three years, Julia assists with the Happy Go Lucky and Country Pals 2.0 4-H clubs. She has taught several workshops at 4-H Clover College and is Superintendent of the 4-H Bucket Calf Show at the Lancaster County Super Fair. Active in the 4-H/FFA Livestock Booster Club, Julia helps organize the 4-H/FFA Purple Ribbon Livestock Premium Auction at the Super Fair.

She says, “I clearly remember volunteers who were influential when I was a 4-H’er myself. Volunteers are key in making youth successful not just at the fair, but year-round. As an adult, I now see it is my turn to make a positive impact on the program, while sharing my passion and talents. My favorite experience as a 4-H volunteer thus far, was seeing the smiling faces on the exhibitors’ faces as they went through the Premium Auction. This year, the Livestock Boosters’ volunteers did an amazing job collecting a record amount of donations before the fair and during the auction. Those dollars in return were awarded to the exhibitors for their hard work

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