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”