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Staff member receives national award for her service to others through 4-H

April 3, 2019

Polk County Program Coordinator Katie Becker knows first-hand the difference that 4-H can make. She knows it not only because she has worked in three different Minnesota counties, but because of the difference that the program made for her.

As a middle schooler, some individuals in the school system told her, "Don't bother even trying in school. You are never going to make it in life.” 

Katie recalls this memory, stating “I was in shock that anyone would say this to a student. At that moment I knew I had to prove myself. As you can imagine Middle school is hard enough without being told that." 

Luckily, Katie came from a large family that was very active in 4-H. "4-H was a place where I was able to learn and grow in a positive and safe environment, which was crucial, especially when I got to high school. 4-H was my safe place, I was valued." Katie said. 

Reflecting on the difference that 4-H made for her as a learner, Katie noted, "I didn't realize how much of an impact 4-H was on my

life as a young person. I was very blessed to be actively engaged in 4-H." 

Today the program coordinator who encouraged and supported her back then is a colleague, Extension Educator Marcia Woeste. "I was very thankful for her positive support as a young person. She truly made an impact on my life then and now in my professional career."  

As a 4-H program coordinator, Katie helps young people to discover their gifts and talents through project learning. She has worked in Clearwater, Crow Wing and now Polk County 4-H, mainly in after-school programs, fairs and day camps. Knowing the obstacles to learning and growth that young people can face, she works to identify barriers and how they can be overcome, and takes pleasure in seeing them blossom.

Having worked in three different locations gives her a great perspective on 4-H. "Each county is unique," Katie said. Her approach in each county, however, is the same.

1. Make connections / Networking
Katie introduces herself to local school principals and others who are interested in after-school or other youth development programming. "I visit the schools to find out which type of programming would best fit the needs for the particular program." Katie said.

2. Create partnerships
Having established a relationship, Katie collaborates with the partner to determine what each will bring. In Clearwater County, for example, "The school provided safe environment and healthy snack. We provided the educational opportunities. The lessons I taught were created around STEM, including a mad scientist theme as well as a flight curriculum which involved building and creating hot air balloons." she said.

3. Find out what the young people are interested in. 
"By finding out what young people are interested in, I am able to create a high-quality after-school program based on their needs. For example, young people were interested in hot air balloons so I was able to create an after-school program based on flight." Katie said. “Youth voice is very important when planning programs. I always want to make sure the program is appealing to them. 4-H is very unique because there is so much to offer. 4-H has something for everyone."

The approach has succeeded for her, and she's been recognized for it. When Katie attended the National 4-H Conference last fall, she received the Achievement in Service Award from the National Association of Extension and 4-H Agents, a national award.

In reflecting on the differences between counties, she also recognized a common thread. Katie was describing the 4-H program, but she may have been describing herself. "You're always learning something new and being inspired by the local young people," she said.

By Ann Nordby
Center for Youth Development

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