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4-H clover Long-time Swift County 4-H volunteer Jim Ostlie creates inclusive environment for all youth

“I always knew that 4-H was something that I was going to be involved with later in life, even if I didn’t have kids,” said Minnesota 4-H volunteer Jim Ostlie.

Ostlie engaging youth members in an educational activity. 

Ostlie has been a University of Minnesota Extension 4-H program volunteer for over 13 years, and is an alum of the program himself.

“I was an outgoing kid, but school was just not my thing. I was really able to grow and excel through 4-H,” he recalled. “We had some fantastic program coordinators and Extension educators who inspired me to do as much as I could within the project areas that I was interested in, as well as branch out and try things that I typically would not have done.”

His positive experience inspired him to give back by resurrecting a 4-H club in his area– the Swift Falls Winners 4-H Club.

“4-H is a program that I think every child should have the opportunity to be part of. There's so much opportunity for individual growth, and for kids to really step out of their comfort zone even if they're not realizing it,” said Ostlie.

Ostlie helping youth lead at a Swift Falls Winners 4-H Club meeting. 

Ostlie goes to great lengths to ensure all youth– regardless of their ages or capabilities– are included in club activities.

“We have a lot of Cloverbuds in our club, and we understand that business meetings can sometimes be difficult for these younger members,” said Ostlie. “We don’t want to discourage them from wanting to come back, so after roll call, we send them, as well as an older youth leader and adult volunteer, to complete a leadership project.”

These projects prepare youth so that they can become actively engaged when they do get to the point where they can sit through business meetings. 

“We want youth to be able to share their ideas without feeling uncomfortable,” said Ostlie. “Their socialization and presentation skills improve dramatically throughout their time in 4-H. It's amazing to watch.” 

Not only do youth in the Swift Falls Winners 4-H Club build important social skills, but they also learn about the importance of giving back to the community.

“We have this gem of a park– the Swift Falls County Park– in our town that butts up to the Chippewa River, but the playground equipment was outdated and unsafe,” said Ostlie. “ We would go there often as a 4-H group, and the kids eventually came up with the idea to improve the playground. And I thought, well, why not?”

Ostlie with his wife and fellow Swift Falls Winners 4-H Club volunteer, Laura. 

Youth, as well as adult volunteers like Ostlie, came together to form a committee and reach out to local families, organizations and businesses to help fund the improvements.

“As we had funds, our families came together and constructed that entire playground,” recalled Ostlie. “We've installed an ADA-accessible swing set, monkey bars, teeter totters, benches, picnic tables, garbage cans and grills.”

But the project didn’t stop with the installation of new equipment. The group continues to brainstorm new ideas for improving the park, and goes back annually to pick weeds and groom the playground area, as well as paint.

“It’s been an incredibly special project, and we're still in the midst of it almost 12 years later,” said Ostlie. “Everyone that contributed has special skills. And without all those special skills coming together, we would have never been able to do this.”

Because of Ostlie’s formidable contributions to his local community and 4-H, he was honored as the 2024 Outstanding Lifetime Volunteer by the National 4-H Council.

“Jim was one of the leading forces in resurrecting the Swift Falls Winners 4-H Club back in 2011. What started back up with fewer than 20 members has nearly 60 members today! The Swift Falls community benefits greatly from Jim's shared time and talent,” said Becca Golden, Extension educator in Swift County. “With Jim at the helm of the Swift Falls Winners 4-H Club, creating a vibrant community is at the forefront of all club efforts through service learning.”

Learn more about becoming a 4-H volunteer.

Author: Madeline Eaton

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