Getting Personal: 4-H is changing lives

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Illinois 4-H strives to teach life skills. Sometimes those life skills may seem very simple to us, but are truly life changing. Read these words from a mother who knows just how important 4-H has been to her son.

"We have five sons adopted form China. Jason came home in 2010 at age 6 ½ with an unrepaired single ventricle heart, skeletal (28 pounds), horrific scars on his arms and legs and scared of EVERYTHING, but especially any kind of ANIMAL.

"In China, he LITERALLY tried to climb on my head at the sight of a kitten or puppy. To say that he was terrified of animals would be a true understatement. 

"I have never heard before the guttural cries of terror from another human being that he uttered when encountering the smallest of animals; and big ones were beyond explanation. We did not know about his extreme fear of animals before meeting him, which is unfortunate, as his dad and I are veterinarians, we have pets and his siblings are active in 4-H showing livestock.

"During the first year home, he had two very hard open heart surgeries and lengthy hospital stays, which did not help his timid nature. For the entire first year home, he would not even get out of the cab of the truck at the farm, even if we tried to reassure him the cattle were secured behind the fence and the cats locked in the barn.

"We couldn't even think of taking him to the livestock shows the first year home; the second, he watched from FAR, FAR away. Then last year when we signed up for 4-H projects, Jason announced that he wanted to sign up for SWINE!!!Could have knocked me over with a feather!

"We questioned if he knew what that meant, etc. and he knew that his sisters and brothers had shown pigs and he wanted to try it, too. Mind you, he wouldn't even go near the pig pen the previous year! So we signed him up.

"When the time came to get the pigs, even though they were small, he would not go in the pen with them and would run away if they squealed. But as the spring and summer went on, with the help and encouragement of mostly his younger brothers, he eventually did go up to the fence, then just inside (close enough to make quick escape!), then he went near the pigs, then threw marshmallows from his hand in their general direction.

"In June, he suddenly had a burst of confidence and actually started TOUCHING the pigs, granted, from as far away as his arms would allow and ready to sprint at a moment's notice, but nonetheless touching them!By showtime, he was using the show stick and getting in there with the rest of the kids!

"When the actual show came, I have to admit, we had no idea if the added "pressure" of the audience, other animals, etc. would send him running off for shelter or not, and I was more than a little worried that the stress might trigger some sort of cardiac episode, but you have never seen such a proud and happy guy showing hogs!!!

"He was beaming, mugging for the camera so much that he lost track of the pig a time or two! Did he do a superior job showing a hog? No, but showing that hog represented overcoming a HUGE, HUGE set of fears in his short life--and that is why this strange mom was crying with the camera on the side of the ring.

"For Jason, showing hogs in 4-H was quite literally a life-changing project. He now goes with the other kids to the farm and helps his dad with the animals. He is not always 100% comfortable, but he is SO proud that he is now able to do those things; and we couldn't be more proud of him."


Judy Mae Bingman, University of Illinois Extension Marketing and Communications Manager

Judy uses powerful words and photography to tell the Extension story. She is a skilled communication strategist and storyteller with demonstrated success in building teams and creating strong organizational brand identities that deepen Extension’s impact among key audiences, build brand loyalty, strengthen employee talent, and expand public engagement. She is a frequent conference presenter at the National Association of Extension 4-H Agents Conference and helps Extension staff across the nation tell compelling stories.