You wouldn't think it would work.
The shooting sports program is one of the fastest growing projects in Illinois 4-H. The program offers four disciplines of focus: archery, rifle, shotgun, and wildlife/hunting. For some teens, shooting sports is the one reason they joined and stayed in 4-H during those busy high school years.
There's just one hitch; in order to participate in this national 4-H program, youth must take the project as part of a 4-H club experience. And, to be a 4-H shooting sports club, a club needs at least two certified instructors, one who coordinates the club and at least one for each discipline the club offers.
To be certified, adults must attend a full weekend training, and for most, at their own $125 expense. They go through background checks and reference checks. Once approved, they spend countless hours in all types of weather giving their time to bring the sport to youth.
See why it really shouldn't work? Yet, it does work, and is still thriving.
Another 58 adults were recently certified in weekend training at 4-H Memorial Camp near Monticello Oct. 21-23. That brings Illinois' total of certified instructors to over 900 adults in six years. About 175 of those instructors have returned to receive certification in more than one discipline, and three are now certified in all five disciplines, as well as the coordinator position.
Some of the first youth participants who have aged out of 4-H are now returning to take their turn as an instructor in the program they say taught them patience and determination in a sport they passionately enjoy.
So why do they volunteer? Many say they want to be sure children have a chance to experience the sport, and they know many children don't have someone to teach them. For others, the reasons are more personal.
Michael Moody said he wants to be a positive influence for youth. Win Phippen of McDonough County said he enjoys sharing his enthusiasm of the out of doors with children. Mike Claypool isn't new to 4-H. He is a longtime poultry and rabbit judge. He sees shooting sports as a way to expand the 4-H program to new audiences.
Others see this as an opportunity to pay it forward. "I'm volunteering to give back to my community and support my own children on their 4-H journey," said Phil Blunt of Rock Island County.
For Zak Benjamin of Henry County, he chose 4-H because of the quality of the program which inspires youth. "Out of all of the youth programs I have been a part of," Benjamin said, "I have seen more impact from 4-H than any of the others."
In a sport which is often misunderstood, Benny Schakat of Mason County said he believes "education erases ignorance and allows us to better grow and relate to objects, animals, and each other."
"We have extremely passionate and dedicated volunteers, and that's why this program beats the odds and works so well," Dawson said, "They are willing to sacrifice their time, talents and resources to enhance the lives of children."
"I have never witnessed a more passionate group of adults willing to share their shooting sports knowledge with the youth of our state," Dawson said. "I don't think our volunteer instructors and coordinators think of it as a sacrifice because they believe they are getting as much from the program as they are giving."
The Illinois 4-H Foundation provides funds to assist 4-H shooting sports clubs purchase training equipment and to cover partial expenses to the national 4-H shooting contest.