BROOKINGS, S.D. – When South Dakota 4-H launched the Companion Animal project area in 2017, Hailie Stuck was eager to participate. Two years later, the State 4-H Ambassador from Brentford encourages younger members to participate by leading informational, Companion Animal workshops.
“When 4-H added the Companion Animal area, it expanded opportunities for kids who don’t have farm animals or are prone to allergies,” explains Stuck, 15, and a sophomore at Northwestern Area High School. “During the workshop, I brought my guinea pig, Baby Girl, and went over what 4-H members would need to bring to the show, which animals they can show and how to show them.”
The companion animal project area is open to any pet which relies on humans for its care. Youth can exhibit turtles, ferrets, beta fish, snakes, hedgehogs, hamsters – you name it.
Unique to other 4-H animal project areas, pets exhibited within the new companion animal project area are judged on their health, wellbeing and environment provided to them, versus specific breed standards.
Showing animals has been a tradition for generations of 4-H members. The practice teaches many life and leadership skills including public presentation skills, confidence and discipline – youth need to practice with their animals at home to have them ready to show before a judge.
“Showing animals really teaches you that you are not always in control. It’s hard work, but with enough work, you can really develop a bond with your animals and that can be rewarding itself, even more than the ribbons and trophies from the fair,” says Stuck, who began showing rabbits in 4-H. Then, she began showing guinea pigs and today, she also shows sheep.
Stuck adds that she also enjoys the social aspect of showing animals. “Showing brings people together. I love the fact that there are so many kids involved who have similar interests,” she says.
Through participation in 4-H activities, Stuck made friends from across South Dakota. Two years ago, she attended 4-H Teen Leadership Conference (TLC) and decided she wanted to be a part of the group of 4-H teens who organize the conference, so she decided to apply and interview to become a State 4-H Ambassador.
Developed to expand leadership opportunities for teens, the State 4-H Ambassador program offers opportunities to South Dakota teens because it is designed to engage youth in leadership development through all four 4-H program priority areas including:
- Health & Wellness
State 4-H Ambassadors can choose to be a part of the TLC planning team or further develop their leadership skills through participation in other state-wide 4-H programming.
State 4-H Ambassadors also work on an individual project. The Companion Animal workshop Stuck hosted is the project she decided to do as part of the leadership development component of serving as a State 4-H Ambassador.
“What impresses me about the State 4-H Ambassador program, is it challenges teens to work on projects to promote the areas of 4-H they feel they are experts in. Hailie is taking the skills she has learned in 4-H and promoting something she is passionate about,” says Kimberly McGraw, SDSU Extension 4-H Youth Program Advisor - Clark & Spink Counties. “I am a proponent of youth-teaching-youth. When an older 4-Her teaches younger members something, they absorb the information differently. They get more excited about it.”
Stuck agrees. “I still look up to older 4-H members. They put things into perspective, because if they can do something, and they are close to my age, then I believe I can do it too someday.”
To learn more about the State 4-H Ambassador program or more about 4-H programming in your area, contact your local SDSU Extension 4-H Youth Program Advisor, on the Our Experts page and search by county.
Hailie Stuck, 15, teaches young 4-H members about the Companion Animal contest, with the help of her guinea pig, Baby Girl. A sophomore at Northwestern Area High School, Stuck serves as a State 4-H Ambassador, led Companion Animal workshops for youth in her county.
Hailie Stuck, 15, shows a guinea pig in the Companion Animal contest, during her local 4-H Achievement Days. A sophomore at Northwestern Area High School, Stuck serves as a State 4-H Ambassador.