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”

5 Questions With… Shelley Barfoot-O’Neill

Name: Shelley Barfoot-O’Neill
Status: Volunteer/Alumni
Years in 4-H: 10 (member), 21 and counting as leader

1. Why did you join 4-H?

As the kid of a 4-H family, there was never a doubt! My grandparents were leaders and my parents were both members and leaders. When I was 11 before the age changed, I was at the Regional Show in Owen Sound with my dad and the Wiarton Dairy Club, and I remember thinking…’next year that will be me in the ring with my calf!’ I was so excited. Our family is four generations of 4-H enthusiasts and just waiting on the fifth generation to become old enough to continue the tradition!

I am a bona-fide 4-H lifer, and so are all of the Barfoot and O’Neill families!

2. What clubs, camps, opportunities, etc have you participated or volunteered in?

As a member I tried to attend every opportunity that was available to me and luckily my parents were very supportive; camps, conferences, and three exchanges to Niagara, Alberta and Saskatchewan. I was in as many livestock and homemaking clubs as I was allowed to take, completing almost 50 clubs. I never missed shows, representing Grey was an honour and I was able to do so at the Classic and Silver Dollar many times as I was also the Grey County 4-H Ambassador and President of the Grey County 4-H Members’ Association.

As a leader, my husband and I lead the Wiarton Dairy, fitting and Sheep Clubs. I also lead the Nashville North and Clavering Lifeskills clubs. I’ve been the chaperone for EastGen since it was Silver Dollar, am dairy and registrations chair for the Grey-Bruce Regional 4-H Show, committee member for the Royal Jr. Sheep Show and All-Ontario Jr. Sheep Show, and have assisted with the Grey County Team at the Classic for many years. Additionally I’m involved as the Livestock Contact for Grey, was President of the Grey County 4-H Leaders Association and countless other activities too numerous to mention.

3. How has 4-H changed your life?

4-H gave me the opportunity to meet my husband of 28 years. As many others have we met through the program and been involved in 4-H together ever since. That is the most important! Aside from that, I was a shy only child and through 4-H members always being at my farm when I was little to being a member and now leader it has given me the self-confidence to do things way outside my comfort zone! While I am still nervous and a little anxious to do new things, I don’t let that stop me. I cannot forget to mention the countless friends and contacts I have made not only as a member and leader but also as a 4-H mom. These wonderful people who have come into our lives through 4-H will always hold a special place in our lives. I love to connect with 4-H’ers from all over at the various activities. We generally are their “Udder Parents” and we are quite happy to be considered that. Learning the importance of community involvement and volunteering from my family and my 4-H Leaders has been a great opportunity and I hope to honour the work they did by being the best I can be.

If 4-H members get half as much out of the program as we do as Leaders then we are doing our jobs. I tell people if the Leaders aren’t learning and developing right alongside their members they aren’t doing something right.

4. What’s your favourite 4-H memory?

I have so many. In my own time as a member, it truly was an honour to participate in the first ever Classic, and to place second with my calf, Kenarbara Dominion Fobes, was extra special. Every time I represented Grey I cherished the opportunity. As a 4-H mom, seeing my sons achieve and excel not only in the showring but outside as well, and to develop into great young men is amazing. A couple of special memories would be Adam winning the dairy member of the year for Grey and Champion Showman at Lucknow and Shea winning Reserve Champion showman at the Classic and the same year also Reserve Showman at the Jr. Sheep show. I don’t think that has been done before or since. The next year he followed it up by winning EastGen Overall Champion. As a 4-H Leader, last year two of our sheep members were named Grand and Reserve Grand Showmen at the Jr. Sheep Show at the Royal. Watching Zac being presented with the grand ribbon then watching Delaney also being presented with her reserve ribbon was amazing! But what made it extra special was to see the pride on Zac’s face when Delaney was named reserve. He was as happy for his club mate as he was for himself and that is what 4-H is all about. Our sheep club is 95% non-farm kids with no 4-H history, and to hear their families talk about how the kids have grown and developed throughout the club is very fulfilling!

5. What do you do outside of 4-H? (hobbies, school, career, etc)

Since I am a bona fide 4-H addict, most of our lives revolve around 4-H. I have worked at the Real Estate Institute of Canada for the past 13 years. We are a not-for-profit organization and I find working in that field helps me to better understand how others such as 4-H works. I have just taken on the part-time role of Livestock Coordinator with 4-H Ontario—my dream job! Even if it is a little hectic at the moment, I love it. Brian and I own a couple of holsteins and love to show, so if there is a show you will probably find us either at ring side or in the barns, depending on our work schedules. I am also active helping the boys with their purebred sheep flock and their showing. I am Logistics Manager and Public Relations for Shad and Goodacre Livestock during the sheep show at the Royal. Brian and I are blessed with two amazing sons, Adam and Shea, a great daughter-in-law Liz and three grandsons Riley, Hunter and Grayson and any day number four will be making their appearance. They are the light of our lives and sure keep us busy.

Liked Shelley’s story? Want to share your own 4-H story? Click here and tell us what 4-H has meant to you in our 5 Questions With… feature!