While I’m an advocate for volunteer work and running for local and state offices to impact change, right now I think our greatest impact is how we lead our families and homes. What that looks like varies by family and home.

A slice of that leadership came to fruition for me this past week when I drove our daughters to the Tri-County Fairgrounds, a mile west of Wishek, N.D., to show their static 4-H projects. This spring, with nowhere to go, I witnessed leadership through 4-H as our daughters were afforded extra time for more focused projects. While we didn’t know if they would have a 4-H event to present their projects to a judge, the experience of “doing” far outweighed any ribbon they would be awarded.

The girls have their own interests, creative ideas and goals to attain through their projects. Their builder dad and both grandmothers serve as mentors on different projects of interest.

Elizabeth brought the Pinterest-inspired sandbox picnic table and domino clock to life in the back shop of our family-owned lumberyard. This spring, my mom and Elizabeth sewed for days and weeks in my parent’s farmhouse basement, resulting in more than 300 face masks for family members, friends and anyone who needed them. Elizabeth’s sewing skills advanced and she completed several sewing projects, including detailed potholders and farm-themed pillowcases.

Elizabeth found a new recipe, Twix cookies, and made the recipe several times to master the process and end result. In past years, she learned to make kuchen, which is a heritage German-Russian dough, fruit and custard delicacy of south-central North Dakota. She created kuchen bars this year with her Nana Carol and learned to make her own version from a Wishek Centennial cookbook.

Anika built her own ideas of a coffee table and then a dog dish stand in the lumberyard shop this spring and then asked to create a fairy garden. Holding out for the late-season sales and coupons, she visited a greenhouse on a nearby farm to choose her plants and fairy characters. She eagerly planted her fairy garden and named each character.

Anika Pinke built a coffee table shelf and a dog dish stand this spring as 4-H projects. (Katie Pinke / Agweek)
Anika Pinke built a coffee table shelf and a dog dish stand this spring as 4-H projects. (Katie Pinke / Agweek)

As it turns out, our county and state fair were canceled. However, the county Extension staff and 4-H council rallied together to host a socially distanced, one-day-only Achievement Day. Our girls were thrilled when they heard news and went to work putting the final touches on their projects.

On July 10, as we turned into the fairgrounds, Elizabeth, age 12, said, “I love showing static projects.”

Her younger sister, Anika, age 11, quickly replied, “I love showing animals more.”

Yes, Anika is an animal lover first and foremost, but she still completed three static projects on her own and was ready to present each with detail.

As a multigenerational family, we’ve done the best we can this year to keep our girls engaged, despite the immense change in their lives. Completing 4-H projects in a pandemic proved worthwhile. The experiences with mentors and leaders in their life will leave lasting memories.

According to more than 10 years of Tufts University research around the positive youth development of 4-H programs, 4-H members in grades seven through 12 are four times more likely to make contributions to their communities. 4-H’ers in grades 10-12 are nearly two times more likely to participate in science programs during out-of-school time. By the time they reach grade 12, 4-H females are three times more likely to take part in science programs compared to girls in other out-of-school time activities. While our daughters do not know it today, their work this spring and summer will pay greater dividends in the future across community and academic roles.

Thank you to county and state Extension agents, staff and volunteers for giving 4-H youth experiences this summer. Thank you to the leaders in the 4-Her’s lives. A simpler-than-usual 4-H Achievement Day demonstrated leadership to my kids and gave them comfort and stability in uncertain times.

Your presence, words and leadership, or lack thereof, influences those around you. Let’s surround our next generation with positive leadership.

Pinke is the publisher and general manager of Agweek. She can be reached at kpinke@agweek.com, or connect with her on Twitter @katpinke.