When someone compliments you on your haircut, your outfit or your home, do you pass the praise along to the people who made it? We don't always think to credit creative and hardworking people behind the scenes. Their work is often invisible and unsung -- but it's just as important as the finished product that we see.
Aaren Mathison, 32, is one of those people who make exciting things possible. Today's 4-H youth may meet him when he judges 4-H projects at the state fair. But his contributions to the organization started when he was a 4-H member himself.
Aaren joined 4-H at a young age together with his siblings. Throughout his 4-H career, he showed beef cattle at the county and state fairs. He also did aerospace and woodworking projects, building rocket launchers and a medicine cabinet that is still used today.
As a teenager, he became a 4-H camp counselor. Reflecting on that time, Aaren says that job taught him many skills he has used in the years since then -- like organization, communication and of course how to work with young people.
Aaren worked at the state fair for two years on exhibit staff, transforming the empty 4-H building into a display of 4-H'ers knowledge and creativity. He eventually worked as the 4-H state fair facilities coordinator, overseeing more than 100 4-H state fair staff.
When his time as a 4-H member ended, he worked in various positions with University of Minnesota Extension. He started giving his time as a fair judge, and has now been a 4-H projects judge at the state fair for over a decade.
Sandy Ducharme, who leads the 4-H exhibits at the Minnesota State Fair, hires dozens of judges each year. She praised Aaren's work judging electrical, exploring the environment, leadership, global connections and many other project areas.
“He interacts so well with the 4-H’ers. He cares about them as people and teaches them, rather than just focusing on their project,” she said.
What sparked Aaren's passion for making an impact? Aaren credits his first officer position as the Fillmore County 4-H federation president. Upon completing his term, Aaren served as vice president, taking the county ambassador program under his wing. There had been no advisor for the ambassador team. Among his contributions was to flip a storage closet into an office for the ambassadors, providing a base for them during the busy county fair period.
Aaren feels that his work behind the scenes has made a positive impact - not only with the 4-H'ers he mentored, but in his own life too. He encourages adults and 4-H’ers alike to join 4-H and stay involved - whether up front or behind the scenes.
“4-H allows opportunities for everyone with every interest, and provides a wealth of knowledge. Being involved expands the ability for a role in society for the future.”
To make 4-H possible, Aaren says, “Somebody has to take the initiative.”
University of Minnesota student
Fillmore County 4-H alum