4-H will continue to play to its strengths, says new CEO

The pandemic has challenged the organization but also shown its strengths, says Kurt Kinnear

Kurt Kinnear never participated in 4-H in his youth, but he can’t wait to dig in now.

The new CEO of 4-H Alberta has, however, been involved with youth programming for most of his life.

Kurt Kinnear.
photo: Supplied

“It sounds cliché, but youth are our future,” said Kinnear. “There are some kids that I’ve met who are really grounded and some other youth don’t have enough life experience, and that’s where 4-H actually caught me.”

The 4-H motto — Learn to do by doing — is “such a powerful thing,” said the Calgary resident, who grew up on a mixed farm in the Olds region.

“If you don’t do it and all you do is learn about it, it just doesn’t work,” he said. “Being able to apply your learning is where all the growth happens.”

During his stint at the Outdoor Experience Centre at the University of Calgary, he was part of a team that grew summer camp size from 5,000 kids to 11,000 attendees each summer. He has also worked at the Calgary Zoo and Pioneer Camps, and was recognized as one of Avenue Magazine’s Top 40 under 40 in 2016 for his innovation in youth activity and leadership.

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“I generally believe 4-H is one of the best youth programs,” he said. “As much as it’s rural, I also think urban youth need opportunities to have some of the rural opportunities as well.”

While involved in 4-H, youth learn vital skills like public speaking, and meeting governance.

“They learn a lot of things that a lot of us have to learn really fast the hard way that are all those fundamentals to living,” said Kinnear.

The fact that 4-H members range in age from nine to 19, has a host of alumni who volunteer as adults, and that the organization has been in the province for 103 years are all great strengths, he said.

“I was able to meet a bunch of people who have sat on past boards and things like that, and they have been with 4-H for 40 years and they are dedicated to it,” he said. “I have seen a lot of people impacted to it, so I really want to make sure we respect that history.”

But there are things that can be done on at an organizational level that can improve the program, said Kinnear, who is the first CEO of the newly created 4-H Alberta. The organization was revamped earlier this year by merging three former organizations; the 4-H Council of Alberta, the 4-H Foundation of Alberta, and the 4-H Section of Alberta Agriculture and Forestry

“I want to make sure it’s easy to figure out what’s going on in 4-H and get involved, make sure it’s clear and transparent for the parents, and then make sure the whole organization focuses on the youth. That’s what it’s all about.”

The pandemic has meant many challenges but beef clubs were able to transition, there’s been a lot of virtual programming created, and membership in the organization has not gone down since COVID-19 arrived.

“4-H Alberta has made an incredible effort to deliver during this. I think the beauty of 4-H compared to a lot of other youth programs is that it’s a lot of small groups, and a lot of youth organizations are very big,” he said.

Many of 4-H’s mentoring programs fall well within the guidelines for safety.

“There’s also a lot of parent-youth work that can be done through the projects,” he said.

Even though larger gatherings are on hold for now, there are opportunities to learn and grow, he said.

Kinnear said that 4-H is based on strong relationships between club members.

“Just because we have to be physically distant, doesn’t mean we have to be emotionally distant,” he said. “The relationships will be strengthened by 4-H. 4-H members have incredible community.”

About the author

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Alexis Kienlen

Alexis Kienlen lives in Edmonton and has been writing for Alberta Farmer since 2008. Originally from Saskatoon, Alexis is also the author of two collections of poetry, a biography, and a novel called "Mad Cow."

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