JEFFERSON — Calling 4-H “the best youth development program in the world,” Kara Loyd says that the organization made her what she is today.
She grew up as a 4-Her in West Virginia and tried all aspects of the program, from raising and showing animals to sewing, photography, cooking, and camp and youth leadership opportunities. As she became older, she even took advantage of the organization’s state, national and international endeavors.
Fresh from achieving her master’s degree in August in Applied Youth, Family and Community Education, Loyd stepped up on the first of the month to become the new coordinator for the Jefferson County 4-H program.
This comes after several months without a 4-H agent or official coordinator in place, although the office staff members at the University of Wisconsin-Extension in Jefferson County were able to keep the program running fairly seamlessly in the interim.
An East Coast native, Loyd moved to Wisconsin in July. Her position has a slightly different title than her predecessor’s, due to restructuring of the state 4-H organization. Simply put, she’ll be the go-to person for 4-H on the county level, charged with overseeing activities and opportunities and promoting the organization in the local area.
A big fan of the outdoors and all it has to offer — hiking, kayaking and more — Loyd said she looks forward to exploring Jefferson County and discovering the area’s natural treasures.
She called her new position with Jefferson County 4-H basically her “dream job,” saying that she had the chance as a youth to try out so many things through 4-H — from being an Extension camping instructor to participating in national leadership opportunities to traveling to Ireland — that she decided that’s what she wanted to do for her career.
Prior to earning her master’s degree in education, Loyd completed two bachelor’s degrees, one in journalism and the other in child development.
Her master’s comes from Pennsylvania State, where she studied with professional state UW-Extension agents to learn about 4-H program development, design, application, volunteer recruitment and management and other aspects of the 4-H coordinator job.
“I am very passionate about 4-H,” Loyd said. “I can’t begin to describe the impact that I have seen this organization have on young people, how it helps them grow and develop. It’s truly amazing.”
She said 4-H helps students develop in specific areas of interest, gives them experience in making and carrying out decisions through their club, and bolsters leadership, self-confidence and communication skills.
“It pushes people beyond their comfort limits and really helps them grow,” she said.
She said she also likes how 4-H is reflective of the larger society. When it started a century ago, it was basically an agricultural organization that directed boys toward research-backed practices in raising animals and crops, and girls toward home economics areas like cooking, canning and sewing.
However, the organization has expanded to offer enrichment programs and mentoring opportunities in almost any area a child could wish to investigate. Unlike in some clubs, boys and girls work together in the same organization, and students of all ages work together, with lots of support from family and community volunteers.
“I love the ability 4-H has of bringing together kids from all backgrounds and put them on the same level, with the same opportunities for growth and leadership. It can help them improve wherever they are in their lives,” Loyd said.
As for her plans for the Jefferson County office, Loyd said she’s taking it slow and becoming acclimated before seeking to make any big changes.
“I’m still listening and learning to see how the program is working right now,” she said. “I’m interested in talking to as many people from as many different perspectives as possible.”
Eventually, she said, she probably will wind up tweaking a few things, taking into account the input she has received from leaders, members, 4-H families, community volunteers and employees.
“It would be a real disservice to the county not to make sure we are ‘making the best better,’ in keeping with the 4-H motto,” she said.
Ultimately, Loyd said, she hopes to build a great sense of community within Jefferson County 4-H and making the program something of which everyone can be proud. Along the way, she wants to make sure local members know about all of the leadership and enrichment opportunities that are open to them on the county, state and national level and beyond.
With the holiday season swiftly approaching, Loyd doesn’t have any major countywide activities on the schedule in the next month-and-a-half, other than a planned open house on a date yet to be announced.
She and her staff and community volunteers are getting to work, however, on various annual county activities, such as officer training in January, and Project Learning Day and the Special Emphasis speech and poster contest in February.
“It will be business as usual, and I’ll be learning as we go,” Loyd said. “I hope to make Jefferson County 4-H as efficient and as great a program as possible.”
To that end, Loyd emphasized that she plans to have an “open-door policy,” inviting members, their families and the community to stop in and share their input on what they love about the local 4-H program, what areas might need some adjustment and any ideas they might have to help the program grow.