Serving Hands: Linda Debney

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.

The Provincial winner for Ontario in 4-H Canada’s 2017 National Volunteer of the Year Award is Linda Debney. She began her 4-H journey as a member in Rainy River where she proudly participated in her favourite club Beef. Outside of her projects, Linda says, “My favourite part about 4-H when I was a member would have to be two things. Firstly, the sense of community 4-H gave me was second to none. Being surrounded by other members who share similar interests gave me a sense of belonging. Secondly, the travel opportunities that 4-H provided for me. I was able to participate in an exchange with a club from Alberta, competed in [Go For the Gold] at the Royal as well as CareerMania and of course [Provincial Leadership Camp]. At the age of 21, Linda took a job in Kenora and finished out her membership with the Kenora 4-H Association where she is now a volunteer.

For Linda, becoming a volunteer wasn’t a difficult decision it “just seemed to be the next natural step. [She] wanted to be a part of something that had such a huge role in [her] youth. Linda primarily leads  Beef and Cloverbud projects but she has also led Senior Member Club, Poultry, Pizza, Chocolate, Photography, and a K-9 project where members showed Golden Retrievers.

Watching her members grow into active members of the community and seeing them take the knowledge they have learned and putting it to use is what Linda finds the most rewarding. When asked about the importance of 4-H, Linda replied “It teaches members skills and information that they cannot get anywhere else. Where else can they learn to run a meeting, to write cheques and balance club bank records? We are teaching them to become stewards of the land and how to respect animals. It gives members a sense of belonging and teaches them to be active members of the community that they live.” She is also able to instill the same lessons in her 4-H kids that her leaders taught her. “The leaders I grew up with expected a lot from us members and I now understand why. It’s not because they wanted to make my life hard, they only wanted us to put our best foot forward, they wanted us to excel. As a leader I get that now. We have an amazing group of members, I want them to see the potential that I see in them” says Linda.

Linda is an Assistant at the Hillcrest Animal Clinic in Dryden. She has held the position of Secretary/ Treasurer for the Kenora District Cattleman’s Association for last 3 years and volunteers with the Oxdrift Women’s Institute.


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”

Meet 4-H’r Nicole French

4-H offers a variety of Clubs to ensure every Member can get the most from their 4-H experience. From chocolate to chickens to gardening, there’s absolutely a 4-H Club for every Member to enjoy participating in.

In addition to learning the tangible Club skills, Members also learn a variety of transferable skills that will benefit them now and in the future. To provide a better idea of what a Member can learn in a 4-H Club, we had 4-H Member, Nicole French, share her 4-H story. After all, what better way to understand what 4-H means to its Members than hearing it from the Members themselves.

My 4-H Story
By Nicole French

Nicole FrenchOver my two years in 4-H I have learned many new things, made new friends and faced new challenges.  I have participated in over 10 Clubs.  Some of my favorite Clubs are the Garden Tractor Pulling Club, Maple Syrup, Sew Easy and the Dairy Club.

In the Fall, I was in the Grow A Large Vegetable Club. I was trying to grow a really big pumpkin.  We were given a seed from an 800 lb pumpkin.  We learned how to file down the seed and then plant it in some soil.  We then got to bring home our seed to look after and grow. This is where the fun begins.  I had to water it and keep it in a window with sunlight. When it got big enough, I had to transplant it into my garden.  Then came the next challenge…….bunny rabbits!  So I can control watering and weeding my pumpkin…..but how was I going to keep Mr. Bunny Rabbit out of my garden.  Well, my Oma brought me some chicken wire over to put around my pumpkin.  I also put out some stakes with pie plates on them.  I think the noise they make when the wind blows them, scares the bunny rabbit away.

I really like watching my pumpkin grow.  It gets bigger every day.  This is a good example of our Club motto, Learn To Do By Doing.  This is a really hands on Club, that requires me to stay focused and learn new things by trying different strategies.

I have also had some great help from my Leaders.  They have really made the Clubs fun and interesting.  They help answer many questions I have.  The Club Leaders have been a big part of my 4-H experience.

One thing I really like about 4-H is reciting the 4-H pledge at every meeting.

I pledge my Head to clearer thinking, my Heart to greater loyalty, my Hands to larger service and my Health to better living for my Club, my community and my country.

This pledge helps me keep focused on what 4-H really means.  It reminds me to live a good life by staying focused on what I want to do.  The best part is I get to learn all of this by doing things.  That is the 4-H motto to Learn To Do By Doing.

When we have to say our pledge at the start of every meeting, some people may think, “Oh we have to say that silly pledge again?”  But for me it reminds me to think positive, help others, stay healthy and overall, be nice to everyone I meet.  I will take my 4-H experience with me wherever I go and remind people that no matter what you think you know, you can always learn more.  That is what 4-H has shown me.

I encourage everyone to give 4-H a chance to try new things and make new friends. When you say 4-H the first thing that pops into my mind is an awesome, fun and active experience.  I’ve invited my friends to come and experience 4-H. I love 4-H and everything that I am learning.  It is helping me to become a better person with a wide range of skills.

Nicole French is a 4-H Member from Region 4. She has been in 4-H for two years and has already completed an amazing 13 projects! Nicole has also taken on many executive positions in her Clubs including Club President, News Reporter and Treasurer.