OURAY COUNTY – Ouray County 4-H has a new organizational leader for “critters and crafts.” Ann Irwin has big plans for growing the local membership (“which has gone south a little bit in the last couple of years”) and raising money in the face of possible funding cuts from stretched-thin county government.
“My goal is get [membership] up to 100 kids,” Irwin said recently. “That means a lot of awards at the County Fair.”
To replenish its coffers, 4-H is hosting a roast beef dinner New Year’s Eve at the Fairgrounds Event Center in Ridgway beginning at 6 p.m. Tickets are $35 each, or $240 for a full table of eight. There will be a DJ, Irwin said, and a cash bar. “Your dinner ticket includes two glasses of champagne. We’ll have toasts at 10 p.m. and at midnight.”
Irwin is also in charge of the silent auction that night, which has bid items such as “a fire ring from Recla Metals, an Orvis Hot Springs pass, a beautiful silver bracelet from David Houts, vacation rentals, some hand-knit hats and scarves made by Cheryl Smith’s mother (Cheryl’s the new head of the 4-H council for Ouray County), Ray’s Jerky has contributed some products, there’s a balloon flight… just some great stuff.”
Irwin is an enthusiastic proselytizer for 4-H. She was involved herself as a kid in Wisconsin. She felt it shaped the person she has become. “It gave me responsibility,” she said.
She emphasized that “you don’t have to have livestock, or animals, to join 4-H. That’s not true at all,” she said. “Although we had one little girl recently who wanted to join our dog program, but she didn’t have a dog. So we helped find her a dog.
“We do cakes, and woodworking, and fishing – I’m the fishing leader. We do scrapbooking. We do vet science. Anything a kid could want to do.”
The four H’s, Irwin, said, are Head, Heart, Health, and Hands.
They meet every second Tuesday of the month at 6 p.m. at the Event Center. An important meeting is coming up next month. “We have our general enrollment meeting [for 2011] Jan. 11. In future months, I’m going to bring in guest speakers, like Kelly Crane (District Wildlife Manager for Colorado Division of Wildlife) to do a presentation for the kids. And maybe one on fish stocking, show them how the lakes get stocked. I want to bring in someone to talk about robotics.
“On the back burner, I’ve got ideas for a bowling meeting, a pizza meeting. Kids earn 4-H ‘coins’ for attending meetings and participating in community service. Last year we picked rocks at the racetrack. I’m sure the horses appreciated it, but it was kinda boring. This year we’re thinking about a lake cleanup, or maybe a highway cleanup.”
The Ouray County 4-H Club currently has about 50 members. Nationwide, 6.5 million young people, ages 5 to 19 belong to some 90,000 4-H clubs. The organization started circa 1902 as a way for the U.S. Department of Agriculture to inject new ideas and technologies into America’s farming population. Older farmers, they found, were more resistant to new ideas; young people were more receptive, and brought their successes and enthusiasms to their parents.
These days, Irwin said, the goal is much broader, including citizenship, healthy living, science, engineering and technology. In addition to the traditional showing of lovingly reared exquisitely groomed livestock at the county fair. The 4-H slogan is “Learn by Doing.”