Sanilac County youth takes unique approach to leadership

4-H proven to empower area youth through life skill development.

Michigan 4-H'er Ryan Rich with his poultry project.
Michigan 4-H'er Ryan Rich with his poultry project.

It’s no secret that today’s youth feel pressure. Pressure to excel in school, to go to college, to get a job, etc. How they overcome those pressures, is a true testament to their character. Take Sandusky native Ryan Rich for example.

Rich, 18, credits his enrollment in Michigan 4-H, a program of Michigan State University Extension, with helping him overcome adversity and build confidence along the way. The life skills taught through 4-H helped Rich learn to work with others, overcome challenges and complete jobs once he started them.

Rich took advantage of the breadth of programs 4-H offers, from science and agriculture to business and creative arts.

The 4-H camp is a major reason Rich joined the organization his freshman year of high school. His involvement soon expanded to even more activities including showing chickens, the 4-H Ag Innovators Challenge and speaking engagements across the state. Over the past four years, he gathered two reserve championships in poultry showmanship, two grand championships in the Mediterranean class of poultry and five county honors in jams, bee projects, and photography.

“Being involved in 4-H has made me very comfortable speaking in front of people and confident in my presentation skills,” said Rich. “4-H has been instrumental in ways that you wouldn’t think of. For example, as a camp counselor, I gained leadership and people management skills. I learned to be comfortable and confident in myself, because if you doubt yourself you won’t be successful as a leader.”

Rich is a beekeeper, with 11 hives. This year’s 4-H Ag Innovators Experience teaches youth about the role honey bees play in feeding the world. Rich is helping lead the state honey bee challenge and speaks to adults and students about beekeeping.

“My parents were involved with 4-H when they were kids,” said Rich. “After I got involved, my parents said they don’t know why they didn’t enroll me in 4-H sooner.”

America needs more true leaders focused on today’s challenges, as well as the issues of tomorrow. A recent survey by National 4-H Council found that 71 percent of today’s youth view leadership as something they can improve over time. But those same youth need supportive adults to help them along the way.

4-H brings a community together to grow true leaders in today’s youth – helping build confidence, teamwork, curiosity, and resilience.

“Jeanna Michalek, volunteer camp director, really helped me through the years,” said Ryan. “She helped me become the leader I am today.”

Any child can grow with 4-H, an organization that has something for every interest. But 4-H is always looking for adult volunteers and funding to help expand their reach and empower young people through doing. For more information about Michigan 4-H programs and volunteering opportunities, visit the Michigan State University Extension website.

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