February 26, 2021

Inspiration for a Lifetime: 4-H Takes a New SPIN on Learning in Clay County

Clay County IA SPINTell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.” From filmmaking to veterinary medicine, volunteers are putting this philosophy into motion by mentoring local 4-Hers through Clay County Extension’s innovative SPIN program.

“We want to show 4-H’ers the career opportunities that exist right here in their backyard,” said Bonnie Dalager, executive director for Iowa State University Extension and Outreach Clay County. “SPIN offers hands-on training from local mentors and volunteers who spark kids’ interest in things they’ve never tried before.”

Since 2010, more than 25 area businesses and organizations have partnered with ISU Extension in Clay County to increase educational opportunities for youth to more than 500 hours annually. While kids as young as kindergarten students can participate in these activities, the target is 4th through 8th grade students. 4-H’ers who have completed SPIN training programs are encouraged to return as mentors.

“It’s great to see all the different generations come together and help the kids,” Dalager said. “Programs like SPIN are also fueling 4-H membership in Clay County, which has grown to 328 members, up from 264 in 2010.”

Support from local volunteers means that many SPIN programs are offered at low or no cost to participants. Some of SPIN’s popular offerings include:
1. Filmmaking. It’s “lights, camera, action,” thanks to Spencer Municipal Utilities (SMU), which broadcasts television channels 2 and 3 in the Spencer community. For the past four years, SMU has facilitated a week-long filmmaking class each summer for 4-H members in middle school. “This is a science and technology program, and it fills up every year, usually by February,” said Dalager, who noted that SMU was one of the first SPIN partners. Eric Meeter from SMU’s video department helps the kids write their own script, work with the production crew, and learn about video editing software. “I really enjoy film and music technologies and want to impart this to the next generation,” said Meeter, who also enjoys teaching. Andrew Bare, a local 4-H member, is glad he participated. “I thought it would be fun to learn how a film is made. I liked running the camera and learning how to use some Adobe software.” As Bare discovered, Meeter’s passion for filmmaking is contagious, Dalager added. “The kids really connect with this, and it makes the class more exciting.”

Clay County IA SPIN2. Experience Medicine. After seeing SMU’s success with SPIN, the Spencer Hospital volunteered to offer a four-day “Experience Medicine” program for 10 to 15 4-H members in 6th through 8th grade. Every afternoon during this summer program, 4-H members spend four hours at the hospital learning about the various departments. “They put on gear at the surgery center and do a mock surgery, along with visiting the laboratory, radiology, physical therapy, and the emergency room,” Dalager said. “They also get to see the ambulance.” The emergency room experience left a lasting impression on 4-H member Amelia Weber. “You know they use ambulances to take people to the hospital, but you don’t really know what they do to keep people alive until they get to the hospital,” she said. “It was very interesting to learn more about that.” Susan Zulk with the Spencer Hospital said she and her colleagues are excited to introduce 4-H members to healthcare careers. “It’s fun to show students what’s available in healthcare today, especially right here in Spencer, Iowa.”

3. Exploration in Veterinary Medicine. Janessa Mechler, DVM, with the Animal Medical Center in Spencer enjoys volunteering with SPIN. She offers presentations at a veterinary science camp, which introduces elementary school students to vet medicine as a career. “Seeing the kids have a good time interacting with the pets and asking great questions is really rewarding,” said Mechler, who has the 4-H members monitor dogs’ heartbeats and check their ears for mites. 4-H’ers who are interested in animals and livestock have many options through SPIN, Dalager noted. Along with veterinary medicine science programs, SPIN offers regional horse clinics, a beef bonanza, and a canine good citizen class where 4-H members complete community service projects with their dogs, such as visiting a local care center. Mechler is glad to be part of this. “When I was younger, there were so many people in the community who helped me and inspired me to become a veterinarian. I’m excited to have the opportunity to pay that forward.”

SPIN volunteers are the key to helping kids feel connected to the community, said Dalager, who added that this support can help inspire today’s youth to live and work in the community as adults. “It doesn’t take a huge staff or big budgets. It takes partners and volunteers who will come alongside you. It’s really fun to watch all this growth and innovation in 4-H today.”

4-H is breaking new ground in northwest Iowa, Meeter said. “You can’t put in a box what the 4-H program does.
It gives these students valuable learning experiences that they might not have anywhere else.”

Zulk encourages others to volunteer with 4-H and SPIN. “I think it’s important for all of us to look for opportunities to be involved in our community and make a positive difference.

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