By Gabby Landsverk, Staff Writer
A family that does 4-H together, stays together — at least, that’s the motto of the Thelens, a family of five from Holdingford who all play a role in the Club, from the parents to the youngest son.
“I think it’s a really great family time,” Elaine Thelen said. “Everyone has to work together and help.”
Elaine and Jason Thelen started their oldest child, Lucy, in the organization about six years ago and haven’t looked back since.
Their daughters, Lucy and Allie, are serving as treasurer and vice president in their local Club, the Snappy Elmdalers.
“It really teaches kids to be leaders,” Elaine said. “I wanted my kids to be confident and be able to go up in front of a group and talk.”
The Thelen girls have grown into their leadership roles with the Elmdalers, striving to be the top sellers during the Club’s annual fruit sale, then helping boost the Club toward having the highest sales in the county.
More recently, the Thelen kids have made a name for themselves in livestock competition, with Allie and Lucy taking first and second place, respectively, in sheep categories.
Even the youngest child, Eli, won an award as open class grand champion for showing the family’s unique Katahdin breed of sheep.
The Thelens have been raising Katahdins for several years, and said lambing season is their favorite time of the year.
“It’s like Christmas every day,” said Lucy, of the excitement of running outside to see if a new baby was born during the night.
During the most active time of the year, the Thelens spend 10 hours a week on 4-H projects, with the kids taking on a lot of responsibility.
“That what’s good to teach them — if they said they were going to do something, they do it,” Elaine said.
4-H has given the young Thelens a chance to show off all the hard work they put into raising and learning about their livestock.
“It’s neat because they get to talk to people and educate them,” Jason said.
But it also gives them an opportunity to learn life skills, practicing teamwork and community building.
“You’re not just treated as a kid, you get to make decisions,” Lucy said.
Elaine added that the kids in 4-H are given voting power and the ability to elect leaders and choose activities, good practice for real-world civic engagement.
That, and the variety of activities available, make 4-H fit for kids of any background, Elaine said.
“I used to think that 4-H was more for farm kids, but now it’s grown to where anybody can do it,” Elaine said. “Even if you don’t have animals, there’s still an unbelievable amount of things you can do … every year we learn something new”
Neither Jason or Elaine were involved in 4-H growing up, but they knew they wanted to provide that opportunity for their kids.
Although they weren’t sure where to start, they made a call to their extension office and found the Elmdalers.
Elaine said the Club, which now has six or seven active families, has been around for almost 50 years.
The Club often collaborates on community pride projects such as packaged meals for people in need or making flower pots for the elderly.
They also worked together on the hay bale competition at the County Fair, in which the Club won third place for their “Minion” design.
But the organization hasn’t just been for the kids: Jason and Elaine said they’ve found a close, supportive community in 4-H.
“You meet really good quality people in 4-H,” Elaine said. “It’s not just a club that you go to once a month. You look out for each other.”
Although they live in Holdingford, both Jason and Elaine work full time in Albany, where their kids attend school. 4-H was a chance to get to know their neighbors in Morrison County.
“We met more than half of the people we know around here by going to 4-H,” Elaine said. “That was what I think is most beneficial for us as adults. We’ve made a lot of good friends.”
Jason said that families looking for a way to get adults and kids alike involved in the community should give their local extension office a call.
“For us it’s been a great decision to join 4-H,” he said. “I would recommend it to anyone.”
His kids agreed.
“It’s fun,” Allie said. “You get to learn new things and meet new friends.”
Elaine said some parents are hesitant to get their kids involved because of the time commitment, and the struggle of balancing school, work, sports and other extracurriculars.
However, she said that for her family, it’s been worth every minute.
“Give it a try,” Elaine said. “If you just take the time and give it a good chance, it is very rewarding.”