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Putting the heart in 4-H

John Drummond has devoted more than half of his life to 4-H, a grassroots organization of community-based clubs aimed at developing leadership and life skills in youth aged 9-21. Drummond was recognized recently for his 25 years as a leader in Waterloo 4-H at the 4-H Ontario annual conference. So what does the 48-year-old think of the honour?

“It makes me feel old,” he said with a long laugh. After a moment he pauses, then expresses his true feelings about the award.

“It’s wonderful because it’s a very rewarding program and a very rewarding experience. Everything that we’ve contributed to youth and the future certainly pays back in spades.”

For Drummond – who was a 4-H member himself back in the late 1970s and early 1980s – 4-H is merely a way of life. He grew up on a dairy farm just outside of Smiths Falls in eastern Ontario, before getting his bachelor of science in agriculture with a major in animal science. He then got a job at Floradale Feed Mill, and as is now their dairy feed specialist.

RURAL ROOTS John Drummond was recognized for 25 years of volunteer service to 4-H in Waterloo Region. He has spent more than half of his life as both a member and a leader of the youth organization.

It was soon after he started work at the feed mill that he decided to join the local 4-H association. He started the veterinary club in his first year as a leader, and soon joined the dairy club. Every year he participates in at least six clubs – sometimes more. In 2011, Drummond is set to be the leader of the Waterloo senior dairy club, the Floradale dairy club, the veterinary club, the milk club, and the Kitchener market club.

“I’m involved with a lot more than the average volunteer,” he laughed. “I certainly hope that people don’t think they have to be as involved as I am. I do it because I love it.

“Agriculture is who I am,” he added.

It’s more than just agriculture though. The four Hs stand for head, heart, hands, and health, and Drummond sees all four as vital for the development of youth in learning new skills, building self-confidence, becoming better citizens and making lifelong friendships.

“It’s agriculture, the environment, food and health,” he said.

It’s also a whole lot of fun. About four years ago Drummond started the first-ever paintball club in Waterloo, and is proud to see that other counties in the surrounding area have adopted the idea as well. The club provides valuable life lessons for the kids beyond what most might expect from an afternoon of shooting each other with paint.

“It’s proven to be a really wonderful club as far as teaching leadership skills,” he explained. “Not only is it a very safe and economical activity, but with the games that we play kids learn about leadership, they learn about teamwork, strategy and working together.”

Not only that, but the club is a great physical workout as well.

“I’ve learned that middle-aged men do not run enough,” Drummond laughed. “At the end of the day my legs are killing me, but I’ll go home feeling great because I got a good sweat on and a good heart rate – we need to do that more.”

Drummond said that clubs like the paintball club are vital to the long-term survival of 4-H in Ontario, and around the world. The idea persists that 4-H is just for farm kids, and he is working to break through those misunderstandings and get kids from the three urban areas of Cambridge, Kitchener, and Waterloo joining the organization.

“If we don’t start recruiting more kids from there as the urban centers spread out, we could go extinct,” he admits, adding that they have seen some great success in reaching non-farm kids – in fact, he estimates that up to one-half of all the kids in his veterinary club and dairy clubs are from a non-farming background.

“I see that as very important because we’re teaching agricultural awareness, and that’s a wonderful thing,” he said with a smile. “I would have never dreamed there would be a paintball club. A club like that was breaking new ground, and I’m proud that Waterloo started it.”

Drummond – who lives between Maryhill and Breslau – was also the president of 4-H Ontario in 2006 and 2007, where he acted as the voice of the 4-H Ontario board of directors.

The one thing that continues to amaze him though, is that there are more than 6,000 youth members across the province and 1,800 leaders whom volunteer their time for 4-H without any payment in return.
“It’s all volunteer, I’ve never been paid,” he laughed. “From local leader up to president, that’s all volunteers. I should say I get paid, but just not with money, there is always a reward.”

For more information about 4-H, visit www.waterloo4-h.ca.

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