Kimberlee Bell was an active Minnesota 4-H member throughout her youth.
“I first learned about 4-H when I moved to Shakopee, Minn., from Minneapolis,” Bell says. “I had gone to the Scott County Fair, and after asking a bunch of questions, figured out that all of the exhibits I was seeing were entered to be judged as part of the 4-H program.”
Prior to that experience, Bell had never heard of 4-H. After learning more at the county fair, she found out that there was a club very close to her– called the Friendly Fellows– in Scott County.
“So that was the club I joined, where I was a member until I graduated in 1985,” Bell says. “During my time in the club, I participated in meetings and competitions, and had some great experiences participating in club leadership.”
In her second year in 4-H, Bell decided she wanted to show small animals. She found a woman in a city close to hers that was selling goats, and the rest was history.
“I competed with that goat, and also with a sheep, for a few years after that,” Bell says. “Most everyone else showing animals at the Scott County Fair at the time had been part of a long tradition of animal showmanship, and I was brand new, but it didn’t matter– I still enjoyed myself.”
While she enjoyed showing animals, one of Bell’s fondest memories from her time in 4-H was her experience as a Minnesota 4-H State Ambassador.
“The time serving as a state ambassador changed my life. I met wonderful people, got to travel around the state, and served as an active advocate of the Minnesota 4-H program. A couple of us became well known for attending local 4-H meetings upon request,” Bell says. “We’d talk about being state ambassadors, plan recreational activities with them and more. If I had to bet, I think we probably attended 20 different meetings all over the state that year.”
Bell felt it was not only a way to get the word out about the 4-H program, but also a way for her to show younger kids that if they worked hard– they could someday do what she was doing.
“My experience as a Minnesota 4-H State Ambassador gave me so much confidence about who I was, and it really led to everything that happened in my life thereafter– literally everything,” Bell says.
Bell’s trip to Chicago, where she competed with her 4-H leadership records, was her first trip outside of the state.
“4-H allowed me a platform to grow. I had the opportunity to travel around the state of Minnesota, to get on an airplane for the first time, and to go to Washington, D.C., to compete nationally in leadership records,” Bell says.
Bell also credits 4-H with teaching her a wide range of important skills– from presentation to public speaking to writing to organizational skills and everything in between.
“My local Extension educators also played a huge role in my experience– Carol Skelly and Marianne Kibler,” Bell says. “The friendships created in 4-H, and with these Extension staff, have been lifelong. 4-H was an incredibly positive journey for me.”
Today, Bell serves as a U.S. foreign service officer for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). USAID is responsible for managing foreign assistance programs in more than 90 countries around the world.
“As a foreign service officer, I am assigned to countries for anywhere from one to four years,” Bell says. “I’ve completed assignments in South Africa, Palestine, Israel, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Turkey, Syria, Washington, D.C., Liberia and now, Saudi Arabia.”
If not for the time she spent in 4-H, Bell might not be where she is today.
“Not only was my experience confidence-building, but it opened my eyes to what the bigger world held in store. I was an explorer at heart and 4-H facilitated that curiosity,” Bell says.