Editor's note: This is the fourth in a six-part series featuring the 4-H program in Wayne County.
— It takes about 30 seconds to figure out just how much three members of the Wayne County 4-H Teen Council love the organization.
"It's like a second family," said Zoe Buckingham of Beach Lake, a member of both Achievers 4-H and Horse Lovers who has been in the program for seven years.
"It can be a life changing experience and I give 4-H all the credit," said Jacqui Billard of Honesdale, a member of the Bethany 4-H Club who has been in the program for eight years.
"It changes your whole perspective. There are so many opportunities. There is something for everyone," said Nicole Buehring of Sterling, a member of the Explorers 4-H Club of Hamlin who has been in the organization for 10 years.
For these three members, getting into 4-H was a natural fit, though all admit even though they knew some things, they didn't really find out what it was like until being involved.
"I live on a farm," said Billard. "I am fascinated with animals. It offers so much and I wanted to try it out. It's my second life and all I know is I was going to raise animals."
Buckingham says she has always ridden horses and that "all my friends" were in 4-H, so it was a natural fit.
However, Buckingham also said she had "no idea" what it was going to be like. Since then, she has been very happy to be in the program.
"My mom was in it," said Buehring. "She encouraged me so I had some idea. It is such a well rounded club that does not focus on just one thing."
Billard points out that 4-H is "not like school," saying that "everyone participates" in all of the activities.
"Everybody is involved," adds Buehring.
Billard said she has "two sets of friends," those in 4-H and those in school. Some of those friends are from different schools and even different parts of the state.
Buckingham said because she has been able to participate in many state competitions it has allowed her to "meet people from all over."
That sense of family is something all three say is an important part of the 4-H program.
Billard made an interesting point about how supportive people outside of her immediate family can be, all thanks to 4-H.
"If you have problems, it gives you a chance to talk to them and share ideas," she said.
Buehring said part of the "learning experience" of 4-H is being able to work with the younger children who join the program.
Page 2 of 3 - "We help the younger kids," she said.
All of them agree that joining 4-H does take a lot of time and commitment, however, they believe it is time well spent.
"It's worth it," said Buehring. "It is not like work when you are having fun."
"I tell people it's really worth it," said Buckingham. "It gives you a different skill level."
Billard said sometimes it even takes away from her personal life but she has learned that is part of the program.
"There are times I don't go out because I have chores," she said.
The program also teaches them many other aspects of life in general.
"It teaches you responsibility," said Buehring. "It teaches you budgeting."
For Buehring, she always has livestock entries at the fair and at the end, the livestock is sold. She then uses that money to start her budget for the next year.
Another aspect of 4-H is competition, but all say it is different than many sports where winning is everything.
"Everyone supports each other," said Buckingham.
Billard says the winners aren't necessarily those "who get the ribbons." She said whoever is competing, everyone "is cheering you on."
Another major change which has happened in the past several years is the advancement of technology in 4-H.
Buckingham said there are more online opportunities to do projects and it has eliminated some of the paperwork which is required.
Billard said her club has a Facebook page and that has allowed better communication. It has also allowed her to stay in contact with other members who live elsewhere in Pennsylvania and even in other states.
"It is fun knowing people who are far away," she said.
Of course the big event each year for 4-H members is the Wayne County Fair. That's where they get to show off their hard work and also be judged in competitions.
"You never want to leave," said Billard. "I like sitting with the animals and my friends. We play cards and eat and do other things. There is a sense of accomplishment."
"This is what I got done," said Buckingham of showing her work at the fair.
Buehring said she enjoys "talking to the public" and explaining to them about her projects and discussing other issues, as well.
"I like to learn about their way of thinking," she said.
The 4-H program is operated by Penn State Extension through the county extension offices throughout the state.
Extension Agent Jessica Scull is making an effort to get more people involved in the program and part of that is an upcoming open house.
Page 3 of 3 - The event is scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 23 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Penn State Extension Office located in the Park Street Complex in Honesdale.
The theme is "4-H ... Something for everyone."
That, said Scull, is something many people don't realize. From traditional animal projects to rocketry to cooking, the variety of projects is almost endless.
At the open house, people will be able to speak with project experts, there will be projects on display, games will be played, there will be snacks and more.
Persons age 5-18 can join 4-H and that information will be available at the open house. Currently, there are 18 4-H clubs throughout Wayne County, all led by highly trained and full screened adult leaders.
If you would like more information about 4-H,. contact Scull at 253-5970, ext. 4110 or visit extension.psu.edu.