With the conclusion of the Delta County Fair, Isaac Muñoz can breathe a big sigh of relief. Now in his 16th year as a CSU Extension agent specializing in 4-H and youth development, he understands the level of commitment it takes to put together the many entries which make up the county fair.
The exhibitors — adults and youth alike — don't just show up with a project they put together that morning. Many 4-H and FFA members have spent the better part of the year selecting a project, keeping records, learning valuable skills, and in the case of animals, feeding and nurturing their critters.
"By the time kids show up with their project at the county fair, so many things need to have happened," Muñoz said. "Without the support of the fair board, the volunteers, parents, business community, schools, churches, local government, these things just don't happen."
Along the way, some kids may suddenly realize they should have started their projects months earlier; others are dismayed to find their records only partially complete.
But in the end they've hopefully learned the value of setting a goal and staying the course regardless of the obstacles along the way.
One first-time 4-H'er who finished her project, but didn't realize her completed recordbook was an essential component of judging, learned that lesson just last week. Muñoz took the time to personally walk her through every step of filling out her recordbook before leaving her with this lesson:
"This project hasn't worked out perfectly, but you've done it. You didn't give up in the process. When you start thinking about a career you want to study, a goal you want to achieve, don't expect things to work out perfectly. Just realize that when you want to learn something and people see that interest in you, they will step up and help you, if you stay the course. If you give up on it, nobody else is going to help you. But if you continue, things will work out."
This "speech," as Muñoz calls it, epitomizes one aspect of his job which he really enjoys. "I get a lot of satisfaction from encouraging the youth, because I see the parallel in a lot of things we do in 4-H, to how we go about trying to be successful in life," he says.
The skills 4-H'ers develop, he believes, equips them to become responsible citizens in the community.
"One of the ways to be a responsible citizen, to make a contribution, is to step up and be a leader," he says. "The way I try to explain leadership to our kids, to our families and to our volunteers, is that when you see a need that exists, rather than waiting for somebody else to take care of it — the government, the churches — you take the initiative to do something about it.
"You call people together. You find a way to get things done. But to do that you need skills. You need to organize people, articulate the need, be resourceful enough to consult with experts if needed. That's what we mean by leadership."
In Delta County, about a hundred volunteer 4-H leaders "model" this concept every day.
"Within our 4-H program we have all these volunteers, parents, leaders, and individuals in the community willing to plan our county fair, to spend their time and help the kids sew a dress, bake bread, or raise a rabbit or chicken.
"Our county fair to me is almost like a living example of a Norman Rockwell painting. All these people dedicate their time because they know the kids are doing wholesome things. We're not all perfect, but everybody believes in the values we're trying to teach and they're willing to give of their time. To me that's so impressive."
The 320 or so kids involved in 4-H are fortunate to have a very strong, very stable group of volunteers who are willing and able to contribute to our community.
As a youngster, Isaac didn't have the opportunity to participate in 4-H. He spent the early years of his life in Mexico, raised by his grandmother in a humble home in a rural community. He knew one day he'd join his mother and sister in the United States — a place he envisioned as filled with cars and commotion and people who spoke another language.
He was entering the sixth grade when he made the move to California, to a "modern society," where homes were equipped with electricity and the floors were carpeted.
Teachers at his small rural school expected him to speak English, even though his language skills were very rudimentary. There were no ELL teachers to help ease the transition.
Instead, what really helped "break the ice" was Isaac's athleticism. While he was a fast runner and a good ball handler, he didn't understand the rules of baseball and basketball. He recalls playing entire games and not knowing whether his team had won or lost.
Still, he began to form bonds with his teammates, although their names sounded very strange to his ears and so were difficult to remember. He paid close attention to the cheers at the conclusion of each game, when everyone chanted "Two, four, six, eight, who do we appreciate!" — and then listed the team members. Gradually he learned their names.
A dodgeball accident also proved fortuitous. When he showed up at school on Monday morning with his arm in a cast, his classmates gathered around, asking for details. He was forced to answer in English, carefully repeating the words he'd practiced with his sister. And after they'd written their names on his cast, he had a visual reference to connect to the strange-sounding names.
While his English skills slowly improved, he faced another language barrier — one with his stepfather, who was from India and didn't speak English or Spanish. Indian immigrants like his stepfather formed a strong farming/dairy community in Imperial Valley, so his upbringing was heavily influenced by the Hindu culture. At the same time, Isaac attended mass with his mother.
In high school he continued to excel athletically and academically. The regional high school was much, much larger than the rural middle school he'd attended and he soon realized he wouldn't finish in first place every time. But because he'd had a taste of success, he was determined to try harder, to practice more. The coaches and teachers who saw his potential and took an interest in him "catapulted" him into American culture and eventually into college.
After graduating from San Diego State University with a degree in social sciences, he was awarded a scholarship from the University of New Mexico. He earned a master's degree in guidance and counseling, then returned to California where he was a high school counselor for two years.
To expose his seniors to a variety of career opportunities, he invited a guest speaker from the University of California at Davis. That speaker spent a lot of time talking about the college's agricultural programs, a topic that piqued Isaac's interest. He'd worked the land in Mexico with his grandfather, and later worked alongside his stepdad on his 2,500-acre farm, which produced cotton, sugar beets, lettuce, cabbage, barley and wheat.
"To make a long story short, he basically ended up recruiting me," Isaac said.
Isaac went back to school, and this time he was joined by his wife Gloria, whom he'd met in a piano class at the local community college.
A professor who learned of Isaac's unique combination of experiences encouraged him to explore extension work. "To me, it was almost a perfect fit," Isaac says. "Extension combines education, research and technical ag stuff. It's about delivering information to people who are trying to develop or improve their production and marketing practices."
He spent 15 years in San Diego County, working with small-scale producers of specialty crops, from organic farmers to orchardists to producers of "ethnic" crops.
As young parents, Isaac and Gloria decided they would rather raise their son Isaac, who was nearly 5, in a rural environment and they wanted to make the move before he started school. That's when they began exploring western Colorado. The move to Delta "was one of the best decisions we've ever made," Isaac says.
"I feel blessed that I'm involved in youth and in agriculture, which I find to be such a wholesome endeavor. I think we all need to feel that we're doing something positive in the way we earn our living, and I get a lot of satisfaction from helping kids live up to their potential. Encouraging them to set goals and then looking for ways to help them accomplish those goals — that's somewhat of an abstract endeavor to a young person. That's why I really like the 4-H model, which uses hands-on activities to expose youth to skills they can use the rest of their lives."
With caring adults like Isaac Muñoz, the youth involved in the Delta County 4-H program are well on their way to developing the confidence and skills they need to succeed in life.blog comments powered by Disqus