4-H is alive and well on Manitoulin, thanks to the help of volunteers

MINDEMOYA—Aimee Flikweert’s first experience with 4-H came about when she was 12 years old and living in the Durham Region of southern Ontario and her experiences with the group have sustained her engagement with the group for over 30 years.

“I was 12 when I first got involved with 4-H,” said Ms. Flikweert. “That was the minimum age then, now it is nine.”

Ms. Flikweert said what attracted her to 4-H was the opportunity to be able to “engage in activities that interested me.” 4-H, she explains, is focussed on activity-based learning. In fact, the 4-H motto is “Learn to do by doing.”

The organization has been active in Canada for over a century as one of the most highly respected and positive youth development organizations in the country. 4-H is based on the core values of head (managing, thinking), heart (relating, caring), hands (giving, working) and health (being, living).

When she first became involved in 4-H, Ms. Flikweert had a friend who lived on a dairy farm and the duo tended to focus on a lot of dairy projects such as livestock, but there were a wide range of activities that attracted her attention, including a cooking club and crafts. “I learned to sew at 4-H,” she said.

There is a perception out there that 4-H is only for rural youth, but nothing could be further from the truth in today’s 4-H, although the learning by doing credo remains central.

“The list of projects is mind-boggling,” she points out, “everything from gardening, to environmental stewardship and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). There are over 6,000 members in Ontario, with over 2,000 volunteers and 50 associations. Kids can join anywhere in the province.”

Volunteers are really what makes 4-H work, and the Island has had a vibrant 4-H organization for many years.

“We have volunteers who can work with youth on small engine repair, veterinary, quilting… we have people who specialize in just about any area of interest,” she said. Volunteers work in at least pairs and go through a thorough background check before working with the youth.

The Island 4-H organization was fairly stymied by the pandemic restrictions, given the learn by doing credo, but with restrictions now being lifted, the organization is swiftly getting back up and running.

“Before the pandemic we took field trips to the Manitoulin Chocolate Factory in Kagawong, where the kids were able to go behind the scenes to see how things were made,” she said, “and to the Burt Farm, where Max Burt took the kids on a tour of his entire operation, including the processing facility, and they got to see how everything worked there.”

“Really, we are only limited in the projects we can do by the volunteers who come forward,” said Ms. Flikweert. Each of those volunteers are provided thorough training by 4-H, these days largely done online, so that training is very accessible for the volunteers. Volunteering with 4-H provides an opportunity for people to share their passions with a new generation.

“We have been very fortunate on Manitoulin to have had the many dedicated volunteers who have gone before us,” she said. “They have really gone above and beyond.”

The Island organization is already up and running again, having recently organized a hiking club outing that saw 12 youth hike the Providence Bay Trail to the old lighthouse ruins. “They had an awesome time,” said Ms. Flikweert.

The ideal situation will be to have volunteers in communities across the Island, and Manitoulin 4-H is well on its way.

“We have clubs in Little Current and Mindemoya, and for the first time in years one has been organized in Wiikwemkoong,” she said. “There are a great group of people there who are really excited to get things going.”

Getting youth connected with the land is an important ideal, especially in these days of digital tidal waves seeming to swamp the attention spans of youth, but Ms. Flikweert notes that youth are very interested in getting into outdoors activities.

4-H is dedicated to providing a safe and inclusive environment that allows for universal access and participation.

Ms. Flikweert noted that volunteering with 4-H is an incredibly rewarding experience that she would recommend to most. “Lots of people become involved when their own children join, but then they stay on because they enjoy it so much,” she said. Volunteerism is a two-way street.