The 4-H program is a cornerstone of the Candler County community, providing extracurricular activities, lifetime skills and lifelong friendships through fun and educational experiences.
With the retirement of Candler County 4-H Agent Angie Daughtry at the end of September, the question rises regarding what will happen to the local 4-H program.
It’s a question that has no immediate answer.
According to Janet Hollingsworth, Southeast District Extension director, the process for filling the vacancy is complicated at this time by COVID issues and state budget cuts. That means a definite timeline is simply not available.
“I am very particular about making sure that you get the perfect person in Candler County,” Hollingsworth said. Because the statewide budget cuts impacted the equivalent of 90 Extension positions, Hollingsworth said that developing a strategy for filling vacancies may take some time.
“I need a moment to restrategize, to think what is best for Candler County with the limited resources I have,” she explained. According to Hollingsworth, Candler’s situation is not unique in the 39 counties she oversees.
To meet the challenges, she cautioned that there may be some changes to the traditional 4-H structure.
“The programs may not look like they once did, but they will still be very productive and vital to the community,” she said.
Because Candler County has a vacancy for 4-H Agent and Ag Agent, “Right now, I would say Candler County is critical. We are dedicated to county delivery and keeping these programs vital, but we will make sure to keep a presence (in Candler) while we strategize.”
Part of that process could include more virtual opportunities temporarily since many schools across the state are presently using a virtual learning system.
Regarding Daughtry’s retirement, Hollingsworth said, “We’re sad to see Angie go. I wish her well and I am proud for her. But it will take a long time to fill her shoes. I want to find the right person ... that’s my commitment to Candler County.”
Speaking of her own mentor, retired Candler County Agent Mary White, Hollingsworth added, “I owe it to my mentor to take care of Candler County.”
In the meantime
Daughtry said that after her retirement, FACS Agent Marnie Dekle will still be in the Metter office handling day-to-day issues, along with Kate Duggan, administrative assistant.
“Kate will still be responsible for helping kids get signed up for different programs and activities that are going on,” Daughtry said.
Those programs include the livestock program.
“The fair was canceled this year, so we didn’t have to worry about going through the fair season,” she said.
Some programs on hold
There are some programs, Daughtry said, that may be put on hold indefinitely, including shooting programs.
“I have great, great volunteers in those programs, but right now an agent is required to be at every practice to do intakes (temperature checks, etc.),” Daughtry said. “Once those guidelines start loosening up, my volunteers can take those programs and go, but right now, as long as an agent is required to be at every practice, there’s nobody there to do that.”
The Air Rifle Team will be able to continue, however, due to a partnership with Pierce County.
The BB team and the shotgun team are the two that will be most impacted, she said.
Need to see the program continue
While waiting for the vacancy to be filled, Daughtry said she is concerned about inactivity in the program.
“My hope, my desire as a 4-H agent is for this program not to be dormant for months and months and months,” she said. “I would love to see somebody in here bythe first of the year. That’s still a long time, but that would be the best case scenario.
“Realistically, I don’t know if that’s going to happen unless the parents really just say, ‘Hey, we think this is important,’ and they really step up and let their voices be heard. If people don’t know something’s important to you, they’re going to assume you’re okay with it.
“I think people just need to not be afraid to say this is important and we want to fight for it. We want an agent in Candler County. We want a 4-H presence. There are solutions out there.”
A large impact
In the last school year, there were 415 kids enrolled in 4-H in grades 4-12. All 4th and 5th graders are part of the program. The 6th-grade club consisted of 35-40 participants and the Junior-Senior Club, which met in the evenings, had about 30 members.
Metter students Gracie Grimes, Zoie Daughtry and Agatha Grimes are on the Junior and Senior District Board, and the local 4-H leadership team has been put into place, which involves 14 club members.
This group was involved in programs such as opening the Candler County Commission meetings with prayer and the pledge of allegiance.
Candler County Commission, which funds a portion of salaries for the Extension agents, has voiced its continued support of the program.
“4-H has been a part of Candler County for well over 50 years,” said Commission Chair Glyn Thrift. “People from all walks of life got their beginnings through their experiences in 4-H.
“The Candler County Commissioners are united in their support of 4-H and the County Extension Service. That being said, our hands are tied because these job assignments come through the state.
“The squeaky wheel gets a lot of attention. We need the whole community to get behind this by contacting your state representatives. When Candler County stands strong, things happen.”
State Representative Butch Parrish informed commissioners during their meeting on Monday night that he supports the 4-H program in Candler County.
In an email to Metter Advertiser, Rep. Parrish wrote, “I’ll do all that I can to help. 4H is an important program for our area and especially in rural Georgia.”
4-H’ers speak out
Metter High senior Angel Jarvis has been in 4-H since 4th grade and is presently working towards becoming a Master 4-H’er.
“It will be a big letdown if the 4-H program in Candler County is eliminated in my final year of participation,” she said. “There are many scholarship opportunities that I will miss out on if 4-H is eliminated.
“Most people know that I am passionate about running and healthy living. Through 4-H, I have been able to share those passions with others through the Girls Running Club and the Healthier U Column I write for the newspaper. I have been encouraged by adults who say that my column has helped them to incorporate some healthy habits into their lives. I have seen the girls at the Girls and Boys Club become more health conscious and active because of the Running Club. These things have given me the confidence that I can make a difference and I can achieve.
“My grandfather, James Jones, was a member of the Candler County 4-H, and he graduated from Metter High School in 1944! 4-H has been in Candler County for a long time. I would hate to see it end.”
Daniel Durden, who is a member of 4-H’s Clovers & Company, said, “When I think of 4-H, I think of the fellowship and friendship that it presents regardless of race, religion, or political standings. I think of the counselors, agents, and youth leaders who have never stopped believing, caring, and supporting the members of this amazing program.
“As a member of Clovers and Company, I have been both the entertainer and in the audience of events, which has been an honor. This experience has given me a new perspective and has really showcased the beauty of performing and serving the community through the youth. 4-H has a positive influence on young children everywhere and should be present in every county, especially Candler.”