4-H offers suburban youth chance to share creativity
DuPage County Fair participant Rachael Miller doesn't shear sheep or raise cattle.
In fact, the teen couldn't even legally keep animals of that size at her LaGrange home.
Nonetheless, Miller has been an avid member of the DuPage County 4-H Club for 10 years.
"4-H isn't just about farming and livestock," Miller said. "I know that's kind of what it started out as, but it's definitely more diverse than it used to be."
This year, Miller is among the roughly 300 participants from DuPage County 4-H clubs convening at the DuPage County Fair to present their best groomed animals and tastiest cherry pies.
Miller, who graduated from Lyons Township High School in June, will compete in the leadership and photography classes at the fair, running through Sunday, July 31, at the DuPage County Fairgrounds.
After taking a high school course, Miller began experimenting with black-and-white film photography.
"I'm just kind of using the skills I've learned in that class to help me get these projects done and expand my knowledge," Miller said.
Miller also will take part in the fair's leadership competition, which she says is "a lot of book work." Over the years, she has acquired extensive leadership experience, from leading the Illinois 4-H Junior Leadership Conference the past two years to serving on the Youth Leadership Team and attending conference trips in Washington, D.C.
"I just like the experience of sitting down with a judge and talking about your project and getting to explain to them all the effort you've put in and what you've learned," Miller said.
The veteran competitor says some of her favorite areas to compete in have been the visual arts and food projects like sports nutrition.
"You have certain recipes that you get to make your own and show the judges what you've done to increase the creativity about it," she said.
Miller also has competed at the state level in the visual arts and sports nutrition categories through the DuPage 4-H program.
A membership to 4-H helps participants ages 8 to 18 year-round, not just in the months before the fair.
"Throughout the year we offer extra opportunities for the kids to take part in that coincide with their project area," said Christine Birns, the DuPage County 4-H academic hourly coordinator.
Participants in 4-H can submit entries in hundreds of classes, both livestock and non-livestock. Open-class livestock categories are dairy cattle, beef cattle, dairy goats, sheep, rabbits and poultry. Non-livestock exhibitions include aerospace, foods, photography and visual arts.
Part of the organization's mission is to find judges and mentors for the various 4-H competitive classes, Birns said.
"We ask that the judges not only enjoy working with kids, but also have a knowledge about the project area they're judging in," Birns said.
Though no matter what the area of interest, 4-H programs have evolved to incorporate the passions of creative kids across DuPage County.
"You have a lot of different projects for a lot of different interests," Miller said.