By Connor Lynch
METCALFE — One of the greatest rewards of volunteering with 4-H is what the kids learn and keep with them through their lives. Like the 10-year old in a life-skill club who learned you can’t make stir-fry and watch TV at the same time. “I almost burnt the chicken,” he told Cheryl Sullivan, a longtime volunteer with the Carleton association and the newly elected president of the provincial organization’s council. Not a lesson he’s likely to forget.
Born and raised on a mixed farm in Huron County, Sullivan grew up with 4-H (for ages nine to 21), courtesy of her older siblings. The baby of the family couldn’t wait to join and spent her formative years with the organization. At the University of Guelph she was busy with Junior Farmers (for ages 15-29), and after graduating, starting a family and moving to Metcalfe after her husband got a job in Ottawa, she saw an opportunity to get involved with 4-H again.
Once all her kids were old enough to join, she was ready to get back to volunteering. In her heyday with the Carleton Association, where she’s been a volunteer for about 10 years, she was busy with up to 10 clubs from April to August. Things would quiet down by August but through the summer she’d be running three to four meetings a week teaching everything from cooking to livestock handling to square dancing. Two-hour meetings with up to two hours of preparation meant long hours. But running the clubs (square dancing especially) was a way to keep them involved, she said.
Having spent five years with the provincial organization as well, Sullivan took over as president of 4-H in May. As an organization built on relationships, COVID-19 certainly looked like it could’ve dealt it a serious blow. But an in-progress effort to move content online took a dose of steroids when COVID-19 hit in March, Sullivan said. All in-person activities are suspended, but the clubs, which are the meat and potatoes of 4-H, still have lots of offerings online. 4-H Ontario’s website lists what club activities are available online.
Having taken over as president at an interesting time, Sullivan said her top priority is making sure the organization gets through the year, and hopefully comes out the other side of COVID-19 stronger than before. The goal is: “that we remain strong, and a cohesive unit, and focused on our vision.”
Last year 4-H Ontario had 5,906 members and 1,960 volunteers. Membership has been stable at about 6,000 members for the last number of years.