A young man’s journey and how 4-H changed his life

In this 2009 photo of the Retlaw Prairie 4-H Beef Club, Jake Drew is second from the left in the front row (wearing a red T-shirt). Calvin Holthe is second from the left in the back row (in a black and white plaid shirt) 
and is standing next to his brother Curtis (third from the left).
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As a 4-H leader there are times when you wonder if it is really worth it. It can be a little overwhelming. There is a ton of paperwork, the need to be beyond organized and at times you feel like you need to be in two places at once… and sometimes you really do need to be in two places at once. Volunteering as a leader is a lot of work and sometimes you just need reassurance that you are doing a good job.

Every now and then a kid like Jake shows up and it really hits you why you are a 4-H leader. Jake Drew is a member of our 4-H club. He started his 4-H career when he was nine and he will soon be turning 16. This year Jake blew us all away with his 4-H speech. When he was done, there wasn’t a dry eye in the room and we realized this is why we are 4-H leaders. Here is an abridged version of Jake’s speech. — Dorthea Mills, 4-H leader, Retlaw Prairie 4-H Beef Club 

I’m going to take you all back into the past.

You can imagine it however you want, be it sitting in your chair or in the old DeLorean from “Back to the Future” movie. We are going back, six years ago.

This was a hard time for my family. My mom and dad had just separated. I was devastated, depressed, and miserable. I got into fights at school and I was always in a bad mood. I never did my homework and generally didn’t care about anything anymore. When I came home from school and my mom got off work, we would talk and talk about everything that was going on. She would cry every night. Life from that point seemed to go in a downward spiral. I would fight constantly, yell and curse at everyone no matter who it was.

At that point everything was so depressing it was hard to imagine anything good ever happening again.

Before my parents split up I wanted to join 4-H but my dad didn’t want me to. But as you can see, I still ended up in 4-H.

It was getting close to October and my mom asked if I would like to join 4-H. I told her I didn’t know because I was so confused and emotional. I kept putting it off. I finally said yes, but I had already missed the first meeting. Luckily, my mom called Fran Geremia (our leader) and asked if I could still join. Fran said yes and I was so happy.

But when I went to my first meeting, I was terrified. I felt that everyone was judging and looking at me. I just froze. I looked for a seat as far away from everyone as I could get. I sat down and slumped in my chair and tried to block out everything.

All of a sudden I heard someone say, “Hi, what’s your name?” I looked up and saw these two crazy kids a few years older than me. I was shaking so bad I could hardly say my own name. It took awhile but I finally said, “My name is Jake, what’s yours?”

Jake Drew, shown at his club’s mini show in May, says he was angry and depressed as a boy, but joining 4-H changed everything for him.
Jake Drew, shown at his club’s mini show in May, says he was angry and depressed as a boy, but joining 4-H changed everything for him. photo: Retlaw Prairie 4-H Beef Club

They said their names were Calvin and Curtis. That is when my whole life changed. We talked the whole time; telling stories, laughing and not really paying a lot of attention to the meeting. Before I knew it the meeting was over and we said goodbye. It was awesome!

The next meetings were good. I talked to Calvin and Curtis and learned how to take care of my calf. I wasn’t really sure what I was doing with my calf at weigh-in. He was 600 pounds and taller than me. I was thinking, ‘How the heck am I going to tame this beast?” We got the calves weighed in and had lunch at Shannon Vissers’ house, another one of our leaders, and it was one good meal.

Every weekend I worked with my calf. I named him Buddy, and that is what he was, my buddy.

The meetings were interesting and next thing I knew it was Public Speaking. I was so scared and didn’t want to do it. I put it on the bottom of my to-do list. The time came and I still didn’t have a speech so I wrote on the way to public speaking. It was terrible. It was hardly two minutes long and I was embarrassed to call it mine. You would think I would learn. I would not recommend that to anyone.

Things started to improve, in school, at home, at meetings — my whole life.

Finally, it was time to sell my calf. It was a lot of work setting up for the show but with a lot of blood, sweat and tears, we were finally ready to show.

The next day we weighed in the steers. Buddy weighed more than 1,200 pounds. He was huge!

He didn’t place high in the show but he sold for a good price. He was my Buddy and I cried when I had to let him go.

All in all it was a great year and my confidence level was raised a lot. I made some great friends, learned not to procrastinate and I learned to live again. (I still procrastinate though because I just wrote this speech last night at 10 p.m. and I am hoping that it will be long enough.)

4-H has changed my life. I am so grateful for it and it will always have a place in my heart. Now that you know a small piece of my life, I hope it will make a world of difference in yours.

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