Not many people can say they just clown around when volunteering, but 4-H leader Caroline Boddy does just that, thanks (in part) to her willingness to say yes.
“I am notorious for just saying yes to absolutely everything,” Boddy said with a laugh. “That seems to work really, really well for me — it opens a lot of doors to possibilities, and the busking project was one of them.”
The Golden Prairie 4-H Club’s busking project (a sort of circus camp for kids) started simply enough almost 15 years ago: one of the club’s members was “inspired” after seeing somebody doing poi — a type of performance art that uses tethered weights to create a variety of geometric patterns.
“She came bouncing up to me and she was so excited, she was hopping. So I started hopping too because it seemed like there was a lot of excitement around this idea,” said Boddy.
“She said, ‘We should do a project with poi.’ And I said, ‘Yes, you are right! We should!’
“At that point, I had no idea what she was talking about. But I said yes anyway.”
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Boddy already knew how to do balloon animals and use trick sticks (from her own 4-H days growing up in New Brunswick). Stilts, she decided, would be easy to make and learn, and if she could find someone to teach her poi, the club could really make a go of this busking project. Simple, right?
Boddy’s poi teacher declared that she was “pathetic” (in the nicest possible way) after one lesson.
“I think I was there for an hour and a half, and finally he was like, ‘You are impossible to teach. You will never learn this. You might as well put them down and forget about it,’” she said.
“I said, ‘Ah, whatever. I’m going to do it anyway and it is going to be fine. We’re going to turn this into a 4-H project and it’s going to be fantastic.’ He had no faith this was ever going to happen. I guess I was pretty hard to teach.”
But it didn’t matter — Boddy “just kept persevering” and eventually learned enough to teach the kids.
“They’re always game for my cockamamie ideas,” she said, adding that in the second year, the kids learned face painting, plate spinning, and unicycling among other busking acts.
“There were 10 of them who decided we were doing it, and of course, I didn’t really know what I was doing, so I kept relying on the parents and kids to give me a hand.
“We didn’t know how to do it, but we just did it anyway. We just went for it.”
Today, the busking project is a mainstay of the Forestburg-area multi-club, which attracts roughly 40 children every year (some from up to an hour away). But the busy club offers a wide array of projects — everything from cooking to woodworking, scrapbooking to archery — and that’s what continues to attract members from across the region. That made the Golden Circle 4-H Club the second largest in Canada until 2015 when the rodeo project formed its own club.
“The kids who do multi-clubs are not in hockey or dance — those other more expensive things,” said Boddy. “We tend to cater to the kids who aren’t doing all that other stuff. 4-H is the thing that they do.”
Traditionally, 4-H has been the exclusive territory of farm kids, but more and more, the multi-club model is drawing children from towns or cities.
“The future of 4-H lies in the multi-clubs, and I’m not the only one who has noticed that,” she said. “There’s nothing wrong with the traditional beef clubs. They have very strong roots in our community. But the dynamics of farming has changed over the years, and we’re finding it a little bit more difficult to get kids to come out.
“That’s the great thing about a multi-club — we’re filling a niche that nobody else is addressing.”
In addition to the wide array of projects offered, the Golden Circle multi-club participates in public speaking and community service — two cornerstones of 4-H’s mandate.
“There’s definitely a need for these kids to find something productive to do and have purpose,” she said. “When we work on this, we have a purpose, and when they come out, they grow in self-esteem and confidence — which I never get tired of watching.”
And that can-do attitude has earned Boddy some well-deserved accolades from 4-H Canada, including being chosen as the 2016 National Volunteer Leader of the Year, an award that recognizes the important role volunteers play in the 4-H program.
As a lifelong volunteer and passionate 4-H advocate, Boddy is a staunch believer that “you’ll always get back more than you give,” when you volunteer.
“I don’t know why. I don’t know how it works. It’s some kind of universal magic,” she said. “But the minute you extend your generosity, you’ll get paid back tenfold. It’s kind of spectacular.”
And as for exploring uncharted territory — like learning poi — there’s also a bit of magic in one little word.
“Just say yes. You’ll be amazed by what happens.”