Serving Hands: Shelley Barfoot-O’Neill

Written by: Sara Harper

The 4-H Ontario Serving Hands feature is designed to celebrate the dedication of our amazing volunteers. We hope that these stories inspire you to share your 4-H story.

Shelley Barfoot O’Neill has been volunteering with 4-H Ontario for 25 years in Grey County. Her passion for 4-H stemmed from her participation as a member. She greatly enjoyed working with her calves, the friends she made across the province and country as well as the friendly rivalries that came about at shows. Her favourite club was Dairy for the simple joys of training, showing and the meetings. This joy continued when she became a volunteer as she now leads Dairy, Dairy Fitting, Dairy Judging, Sheep and Wiarton 150 Clubs. When asked why she chose to become a volunteer, Shelly said, “It was natural to want to do so as a third-generation volunteer, but to be honest I absolutely love it and can’t imagine not being a 4-H volunteer.”

For Shelley the most rewarding parts about being a 4-H Leader are, “… the warm feelings when I see shy quiet members blossom in the club, Brian [my husband] and I encourage and yes even push our members out of their comfort zone and it is so rewarding to see them blossom. Taking that one step further when they take a lead role in mentoring their club mates and then becoming volunteers themselves, it is an amazing feeling of pride.”

There are many reasons that Shelley feels that 4-H is important. The primary reason though is the life lessons that members (and volunteers alike) are able to develop to help them become better people, sometimes without even realizing it. Skills such as public speaking, meeting procedures and working with conflicting personalities (animals don’t always do what we want them to), being a good loser and a humble winner as well as team work are all skills that help them succeed in the real world. 4-H has made Shelley who she is today. She has learned “hard work, determination, [and] team work as a member. As a volunteer [she] learned how to get the best out of people, patience and compassion.” But what Shelley says is the greatest gift she has received from the 4-H program is her husband, Brian, of 31 years.

When Shelley isn’t rocking it as a 4-H Club Leader, she is a volunteer with the Wiarton Agricultural Society, the Wiarton Rotary Club and sits on committees for the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair Junior Sheep Show and TD Dairy Classic. Because of all her dedication to volunteerism, Shelley was awarded the BMO Woman of Excellence in Agriculture Award sponsored by Federated Women’s Institute of Ontario and BMO, which she received this past November as the Royal. She is also a 2010 Arbor Award recipient. Outside of her volunteer endeavours, she is the Senior Coordinator of Membership for the Real Estate Institute of Canada, a not-for-profit organization for real estate professionals.

“4-H truly is a blessing for so many members and leaders, but as with anything you get out of it what you put in and I encourage everyone to take every opportunity 4-H has to offer! Our 4-H dairy and sheep clubs are made up of mostly non-farm kids and to see them embrace agriculture and livestock and competition and teamwork and have a blast doing it is amazing. I am a lucky leader”

The Ambassador Beat: Robert McKinlay

The 4-H Ontario Ambassador program provides youth with advanced level training in leadership, citizenship, communications and public relations. Ambassadors put their energy and 4-H experiences to work recruiting new members and sharing the 4-H story. Throughout 2018, each of 4-H Ontario’s Ambassadors will submit blog entries about their experiences in the program. The 4-H Ontario Ambassador Program is sponsored by FS.

Submitted by Robert McKinlay, 4-H Ontario Youth Ambassador from Grey 4-H Association

Being a 4-H ambassador for the past year has given me so many opportunities to view 4-H in different communities across the province. The variety of communities I have been exposed to has expanded my understanding of the 4-H brand. From Northern Ontario to Ridgetown, Ontario the diversity of projects and members has been huge, but the commitment to the 4-H motto of “learn to do by doing” remained the same.


I had an amazing opportunity to participate in the Massey Jamboree where I was able to meet and talk with members and leaders from the surrounding area. I was able to further my understanding of what 4-H meant to them and how the 4-H program had changed them. The sense of community I encountered in Massey was astounding to say the least and gave me a better understanding of life in Northern Ontario.

The Massey Jamboree was a great place to represent the ambassador program as I got to wear many different hats. I was involved with a 4-H meeting the day before where I helped with a Beef Calf Club. This was extremely fun for me as the majority of the animals were young Holstein- Belgium Blue cross calves. This meant they had a whole lot of attitude and energy but didn’t have a lot of size. This allowed a great learning experience for the members because they could train the calves with a lot less danger of being hurt. It also meant that the calves could have some fun with the members too. The next day we traveled to Massey where I was involved in the setup of the activities and the welcoming of the kids as they arrived. As the event got underway I was involved both as a leader and as a participant. I was able to be involved in events like square dancing and the Amazing Race Massey. The Amazing Race Massey was a true show of the community of the area. During the race we used the community’s involvement to collect clues and complete tasks to ultimately complete the challenge. Finally at the end of the day I was involved in the cleanup of the event and in discussions of how the event could be improved for next year. To me this event was a true show case of the ambassador experience as I was involved with every level of the 4-H program and was able to truly make a difference in some 4-H members’ lives.


Another interesting opportunity I had was to help at a Discovery Day in Ridgetown, Ontario where I helped run games and activities for members. It was a great opportunity to view their community and their interests in the 4-H program. In their region 4-H was made up primarily of urban members as opposed to the membership I had witnessed in Massey. In this experience I was able to interact with members one on one and was able to learn what 4-H meant to them.


I have also had a great opportunity to view the 4-H program back stage and see all the planning and preparation that goes into the events. The incredible volunteers and leaders involved in the 4-H program are simply inspiring to talk to and hear the reasons they have for being involved. Working alongside them I learned about the amount of work it takes to put on a 4-H event. The amount of planning and preparation that goes into an event like a discover day or a judging event is immense.


This year for my Ambassador project I organized “The Spirit of 4-H” trophy that recognized a person or family in my area that has gone above and beyond in the 4-H program both succeeding within the program but also takes the values of 4-H and applies them to their everyday life. I was pleased when the club presented the award to the Visser family this year to highlight all the work and commitment they have done within our club and in the 4-H program.

(Photo of Visser Family and Spirit of 4-H Award )


This program would not be possible without our amazing sponsor, FS. Their sense of community is never more evident than in their charity golf tournaments and their Rendezvous where the appreciation to their customers and associates was displayed for everyone to see. Talking with individuals in the company I have learned about the extent of their business and the commitment to quality and customer service. This is truly a case of leaders helping leaders as they help inspire the next generation of leadership.

This program is truly amazing and I want to personally thank all the parents that drive members to meetings, judging competitions, calf training nights and achievement days. All the leaders that go out of their way to create clubs that are educational and engaging. All the 4-H staff that process thousands of forms and do all the hard work that allows us to create such a fantastic program.  All the supporters of 4-H both financially and physically that help us run such a great program. And finally my fellow Ambassadors that have travelled the province working with members and sponsors to ensure this program never shifts from the quality we have come to expect.

(Both pictures unfortunately missing Shannon Desjardins)


My experiences as a 4-H ambassador have taught me so much about the 4-H program and about being an ambassador. The depth of this program, along with the amazing people it encompasses is overwhelming and I feel honored to have been able to be a representative for this program. The energy and enthusiasm of the members to learn and succeed is inspiring and I believe the world needs as many young leaders, like our members, as it can get. When I was younger I always looked up to the ambassadors, but now as an ambassador I look up to the kids as they are the future of the program and will be the leaders of our future.