Davidson turned 4-H hobby into career|
Saturday, February 9, 2013
By Dianne Byers Staff Writer
For more than 100 years 4-H has been making the best better for young people. The program, that had its beginnings as a corn-growing competition, recently wrapped its 100th year of encouraging youth and building their talents through projects and activities that will help them make a transition to a thriving adult life.
One of those who is utilizing the skills she learned as a 4-H member is Jana Davidson. The Clearfield woman is currently serving as the 4-H youth development educator for Penn State Extension of Clearfield County - a position she has held since 2004.
In her job, Davidson guides youth ages 8-19 and their parents to 4-H opportunities and clubs in Clearfield County. There are currently 17 active clubs located throughout the county from Westover to Philipsburg with approximately 175 members. Many of the clubs have different focuses including shotgun and air rifle shooting, animal sciences, fishing and the newest, robotics.
"Two or three clubs are a little bit of everything from sewing to cake decorating to everything in between. If a kid is interested in something we likely have a club for it," she said.
Overseeing the county's 4-H program often means long job hours for Davidson but she said it is a sacrifice she is very willing to make. For her it can mean attending a club's meeting, helping with organizing programs at the fair such as the 4-H and FFA Livestock and Poultry Sale or accompanying 4-H members to events designed to help them increase their knowledge and skill levels.
"Some weeks I feel like I work all the time but in a good way. I want these kids to have these opportunities because I believe in (4-H) and what they can get from it. There is a quote from Thomas A. Edison that I like and I think it fits my job, ‘I never did a day's work in my life. It was all fun.'"
Davidson said she also enjoys the exuberance youth bring to 4-H. "I like being surrounded by kids. They are always so positive. They have become like members of my family. I am always sad every year when kids get too old to be 4-H members. I miss those kids ... The (Clearfield County) fair is often like a reunion for me because I get to see ‘my kids,'" she said, adding many of them eventually return to the program as leaders or volunteers to mentor young 4-H members and a majority of them have chosen careers centered around agriculture.
Davidson is nearly a lifelong supporter of the 4-H program. "My mom was a 4-H leader and my sister a 4-H member so my mom always jokes I attended my first 4-H meeting in diapers."
Davidson added her parents volunteered as 4-H leaders for 30 years.
Davidson believes in 4-H ideals because she has personally benefited from what she was taught in the program.
"4-H is so much fun and the kids are learning skills. Sometimes they are having so much fun they don't even know they're learning. The program really does teach them skills for life." Davidson elaborated by noting 4-H members with animal projects learn bookkeeping, money management and organization - all useful abilities for adults. She also spoke of her personal experiences with public speaking saying 4-H activities honed her communications ability, which were extremely useful when she competed for and received the titles of Clearfield County Fair queen in 1999 and state fair queen in 2000. Both positions required her to be able to speak to large and small groups of people and she said 4-H provided the foundation for helping to ease her nerves and give to-the-point talks.
During her tenure as 4-H youth development educator, Davidson has developed or expanded several programs. One of those, a progressive agriculture safety day is held each September. The latest, the seventh year for the event, welcomed more than 300 second grade students from Clearfield County schools to the Clearfield Driving Park for a day filled with entertaining demonstrations and activities with messages to build their knowledge of staying well in numerous situations.
She said she has received many positive comments from Clearfield County teachers who have told her they like being able to take their students on an educational field trip "to their own backyard."
The event was also recognized in 2011 as reaching the 1-millionth agriculture safety event participant by the events' sponsor, the Progressive Agriculture Foundation.
Davidson also formed a 4-H Teen Council that brings together members from clubs across Clearfield County bimonthly to plan and carry out events for 4-H members including 4-H award events at the Clearfield County Fair and the annual 4-H Awards banquet in February.
"I just kind of sit back and let them figure it out. They do the planning and the work. I am just the supervisor." This year the council has taken on a community service project at each of its meetings and has made donations to animal shelters and food pantries.
The Clearfield County 4-H Teen Council has also been recognized as one of the top three teen councils in Pennsylvania.
While these accomplishments might mean for some they could sit back and enjoy the results of their work, Davidson does not count herself among them.
"I want to continue to grow Clearfield County's 4-H Club. It used to have more than 200 members and I want to get our membership back up to those numbers," she explained.
She has plans to work with the Clearfield Revitalization Corp. on a project to create a farmer's market.
She also wants to encourage clubs to give more back to their communities.
"A vital part of 4-H is community service. All clubs are expected to do some. I want to see what we can do to leave more of an impact on Clearfield County," she said.