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HILLSVILLE — Sarah Jo Jones joined 4-H at Gladesboro Elementary at age 9, served as state president, became an adult volunteer and just started her latest roll with the club as Carroll County’s full-time agent.
Jones became a leader early on when, in that fourth-grade class, she earned the office of club president.
But her interest in 4-H didn’t overtake her desire to be a lawyer until her senior year, when she ran for statewide office.
“It occurred to me I wanted to be in ag [as a career], but not an ag teacher,” Jones recalled. “It boils down to the Standards of Learning and the bureaucracy of schools. I wanted more hands-on learning and I could get that from 4-H.”
4-H is an extracurricular program, which she sees as a positive. “I don’t have to worry about the motivation of my kids,” she said. “They are here because they want to be here and not anything else.”
She also likes the latitude and the flexibility that a 4-H agent has in working with the children. For example, 4-H has planned an upcoming trip where the children will get to raft on the Potomac in West Virginia, visit Inner Harbor in Maryland, Hershey Park in Pennsylvania, and then travel to Washington D.C. and the national 4-H headquarters.
This will provide the youths a variety of experiences in places they might never have gotten to see otherwise, Jones said.
A lot of the younger generation have moved away from the farms, but Jones wants to remind them that agriculture remains one of the biggest industries in both Carroll and this country.
She sees potential to provide more educational opportunities to children by building on an ag base. That includes strengthening leadership skills or enhancing science, technology, engineering and math (or STEM) lessons with hands-on projects.
The timing worked well for Jones. After the previous agent left in January, Jones got laid off from her last job Feb. 18, “which was devastating at the time, but it also provided me a lot of time I could come into the office when everything was going on. h
4-H volunteers needed help arranging the county contest, with its talent show, presentations and dramatic readings; putting on the area contest; and sending a few people off to 4-H Congress.
After the Carroll supervisors decided to advertise the 4-H vacancy, 33 people applied for the position. Six of those got to interview with the state officials and three met with the locals.
“While I was at camp, I was called about my local interview,” Jones said.
As a part of the local interview, candidates had to give a 10-minute presentation on growing 4-H through volunteers. “I thought 10 minutes wasn’t enough.”
Jones has several self-imposed goals to involve more volunteers. She’d like to see more of the occasional volunteers who help at events go on to lead clubs or projects.
Jones would like to find adult volunteers take charge of the 30 4-H clubs in Carroll schools, so when the agent cannot attend, the clubs don’t get put on a back burner.
“That’s a lot of places for one person to be,” Jones explained.
Besides the school clubs, there is the community club in Laurel Fork, the Clover Buds, the teen, livestock, horse and adult clubs to work with, as well as duties of the 4-H agent, like the Extension leadership council, training and more.
Jones would like to add more community clubs and boost opportunities for middle school-aged youth to participate. Besides the livestock and the Laurel Fork clubs, no other club is available for sixth- and seventh-graders.
Jones has also been talking to intermediate school teachers Dana Burnette and Tammy Delp about an after-school program there.
Even if Jones hadn’t gotten the job, she planned to serve that club as an adult volunteer.
Jones understands that her many goals will require time to fully implement, but at 24 years old she has time to spend working on them.
“As long as Extension and God will let me stay here, I plan on staying,” she said.
• For more information about 4-H and volunteer opportunities, contact Jones at (276) 730-3110 or email@example.com.