August 31, 2000 | By: Haven Miller

When the 220,000-member Family, Career and Community Leaders of America organization elected its national president last month, it wasn't a surprise that he's an active member of Kentucky 4-H.

Seventeen-year-old Lee Wilson of Lyon County competed against more than 30 other students nominated by their state or region to win the top office. He said his 10 years in 4-H helped prepare him for success.

"My 4-H public speaking and demonstration events increased my self confidence," said Wilson. "Those experiences let me know when I was doing a good job, or also when I needed improvement and needed to work harder. They taught me persistence."

The FCCLA is a national in-school student organization that emphasizes leadership and addresses personal, work, society, and family issues. As president, Wilson will lead workshops and give speeches throughout the country.

In earning the honor, he joins a long list of Kentucky 4-Hers who have excelled in their chosen path. Many of those former 4-Hers credit 4- H with helping them succeed.

"It gave me something I was good at, and that was really key for me," said Dennis Cannon, public relations director for the Kentucky Association of Electric Cooperatives. "Laying that foundation of self-esteem gave me a chance to determine what degree of success I planned on attaining."

Many of the leadership and personal development skills taught in 4-H programs are the same ones cited by the U.S. Department of Labor as being critical to youth becoming successful in adult careers. Those skills include creative thinking, teamwork, and self esteem.

"We start at an early age teaching youth life skills that broaden career opportunities and give them the extra edge to compete for the best jobs," said Rachel Davis, Extension Specialist for 4-H and youth development in the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture. "Through participation in 4-H clubs, youth learn communication skills, problem solving skills, and generally acquire a better understanding of how to manage resources and work with others."

Communication skills, in particular, have played an important role in the later success of former Kentucky 4-Hers.

"I joined a 4-H club when I was in the fifth grade, and definitely give 4-H much of the credit for the speaking skills and confidence that helped me to pursue my interest in journalism," said Ann Bowdan, morning news anchor for WLKY-TV in Louisville. "In 4-H I got the positive feedback from adults and other 4-Hers that I needed to help me believe in myself and realize what I could accomplish."

Cannon said 4-H helped his self esteem, which directly impacts what he does today. "Growing up as a kid on the farm I was very shy. But today I regularly speak to groups of a thousand people and am totally comfortable with that," he said. "I attribute my outgoing nature and comfort in speaking to my 4-H training."

"To be honest, the first time I ever participated in a 4-H public speaking event I was extremely nervous and didn't score well, but once I got over the nervousness it strengthened my confidence," said Rob Younger, who oversees Cincinnati sales operations for Townecraft, Inc., a major manufacturer. "Through 4-H public speaking and demonstration events, I learned I had the ability to gain people's respect for what I had to say, and that's an extremely important asset in marketing and sales."

A key component of Kentucky 4-H's success in youth development has been opening young minds to different ways to approach problem- solving, and the freedom to explore new directions.

"Adult volunteers and 4-H professionals encourage youth to try new things and challenge them to do their best," said Davis. "It's not surprising that our 4-H alumni frequently find they have an advantage in the workplace and other organizations."


Rachel Davis, 859-257-5961