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4-H youth contribute to ATV safety statewide, with help from Polaris
Owen Babler was born to ride. Through 4-H, the teen from Becker is teaching and influencing other young people to ride safely.
Babler is the youth leader (“president”) of 4-H Shooting Sports, Wildlife and ATV Safety in Sherburne County. He shares his knowledge at events and online, such as on his YouTube video ATV Safety with Owen.
“The first thing you should have is a long-sleeved shirt or sweatshirt and some pants to protect your legs,” Babler demonstrates to viewers, before launching into footwear, gloves, helmet and goggles. He also explains the parts of the ATV and important hand signals.
“4-H works to make sure young people know how to drive and ride safely,” says Nicole Pokorney, Extension educator, who leads the 4-H Outdoor Adventures program. Polaris, a Minnesota-based company that engineers and manufactures powersports products including ATVs, supports 4-H through financial gifts and by connecting with members.
Volunteers, partners and young leaders reach riders
Michael Bond is the adult leader of 4-H Shooting Sports, Wildlife and ATV Safety in Sherburne County and a certified safety trainer, but he credits 14-year-old Babler with bringing 4-H ATV safety to their area.
“It was during a 4-H meeting when President Owen Babler said he wanted to have an ATV safety class,” Bond recounts. “I agreed and Nicole Pokorney asked if I’d be willing to care for the equipment donated by Polaris: a 28-foot trailer, five ATVs and a complete obstacle course.”
Bond worked with local deputy Cole Petroske and DNR officer Trent Seamans to develop a class for youth to learn local and statewide rules. ATV safety organizations provided materials and Danielle Ganje, the local Extension 4-H educator, promoted the class to 4-H families across the state.
Bond's team DNR-certified at least 40 4-H'ers in ATV safety last year. Bond’s daughter, Emilia is a youth leader (“vice president”) of the program, and his helper for all the classes.
Many youth are into ATVs for recreation, enjoying the outdoors, hunting, and an interest in motors and equipment. Others use ATVs in farm or woodland chores. “Farming is a big one. A lot of kids are using different farming equipment or snow plows as attachments to ATVs,” says Bond. “And then there are some kids who don’t have an ATV but ride one at grandma’s and grandpa’s in the summer.”
4-H educators, along with trained volunteers and youth, normally travel the state to present ATV safety at fairs and other events. Young people from the Twin Cities and other parts of Minnesota head to Sherburne County for safety training each spring and fall. Polaris equipment is used for an ATV simulator in the 4-H building at Minnesota State Fair each summer.
Keeping safety No. 1 during the pandemic.
While COVID-19 is preventing in-person training, young people learning and connect online.
Samantha Lee is an associate marketing manager with Polaris and graduate of the University of Minnesota Carlson School of Management. She and two colleagues connected with 4-H youth via an Aug. 3 webinar Pokorney put together.
“4-H was a core part of my growing up,” says Lee. “Through my time in the program, I participated in food and nutrition, photography, and showing animals, but I also learned important lessons about safety that have stayed with me.” When she saw Polaris at a career fair, she already knew their products after using many of them growing up on her family dairy farm. Others at Polaris, including Vice President of Operations Ken Pucel, have also spoken of their time in Minnesota 4-H.
Watch 4-H'er and University of Minnesota student Charese interview Ken Pucel on Four for Four. In this series, 4-H youth ask four questions in four minutes to 4-H alumni about life and finding careers they love.
Lee develops and promotes safety campaigns. More than 20 Minnesotans die each year in ATV accidents, so it’s important work. She asked 4-H’ers on the webinar to help promote helmet use by posting photos of themselves with helmet hair and to always follow golden rules of ATV safety.
Youth like Owen Babler and Emilia Bond were happy to connect with the Polaris guests because they share their experiences with ATVs and with working for an outdoorsy Minnesota company. According to Babler, there’s a lot to learn, especially in cold states like Minnesota where driving on ice can be a serious hazard if you don’t use good judgment.
The teen’s 4-H leadership in safety now is a good indicator of the thoughtful approach he’ll take in his future career in law enforcement. “It could be life or death, or at least a hospital trip,” he says. “You could be saving someone’s life. You never know.”