Whether or not he wins a ribbon for his nightstand project at this year’s Minnesota State Fair, Theo Miller values the experiences he has gained from being in 4-H.
Miller, 13, of Highland Park was one of eight youths to qualify for the State Fair out of more than 100 who shared their projects during last month’s Ramsey County 4-H Showcase, which included in-person and virtual judging. (The Ramsey County Fair had previously been canceled due to coronavirus concerns.)
Miller’s woodworking piece will be on display in the 4-H Building throughout the State Fair, which will run from August 26-September 6. In addition to being judged on the quality and workmanship of the nightstand he crafted, Miller will be evaluated on his oral presentation in explaining the project.
“It’s very fun,” Miller said. “There’s a saying, ‘Measure twice, cut once.’ That was good to learn.”
He decided to make the nightstand because he needed extra furniture as he moved into a larger bedroom. “Making it has more meaning than buying it from a store. It’s very fun,” Miller said. “There’s a saying, ‘Measure twice, cut once.’ That was good to learn.”
Miller was able to use the basement woodworking shop of his grandfather, Larry Bartz, to construct the nightstand and he plans to make a second one to match it.
His dad, Kent, and grandmother, Joan Miller of Macalester-Groveland, also have backgrounds in 4-H. Joan Miller, who is co-leader of the local Randolph Raiders club, started out in 4-H in her youth in Stillwater, where she learned sewing and fashion design.
Photography was Kent Miller’s primary platform, which resulted in several State Fair entries. He also participated in a performing arts program at the Ramsey County level. “Demonstrating my project to the club gave me a skill set in public speaking,” he said.
He later became a 4-H camp counselor, further developing his leadership skills. The weeklong summer camps on Bay Lake just northwest of Mille Lacs are expected to resume next year, assuming COVID-19 restrictions are lifted by then.
Joan Miller said watching kids become self-confident has inspired her in leading the Randolph Raiders. She encourages club members to present their projects in front of the group, though doing so is not required. Meeting new friends who attend different schools is also beneficial for developing social skills, she said.
Projects in 4-H have broadened over the years to appeal to youths no matter where they live or where their interests lie. A recent emphasis has been on science and technology. However, a vast array of programs are offered, including fine arts and college and career preparation.
Some of the projects that Randolph Raiders members have done involve aerospace study, geology, maple syrup making, pet care, urban chicken raising, photography, food and nutrition, vegetable gardening, health, child development, babysitting and drones. Various weekend or one-time learning activities are also offered.
The local club also participates in a variety of service projects. Club members recently made winter scarves and assembled kits of personal care items and individually packaged food for local homeless shelters.
Since COVID-19 limitations have been in place, the club has met virtually. Joan Miller does not know when state guidelines will allow the club to meet in person again at the Linwood Recreation Center on Saint Clair Avenue.
Still going strong
The history of 4-H goes back to 1902 when it began as a primarily rural organization focusing on improving farming and homemaking practices. Its name comes from its original motto of “head, heart, hands and health,” which was later incorporated into a fuller pledge.
The national organization is administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and in the state by University of Minnesota Extension. Some 50 countries now have 4-H clubs.
— Carolyn Walkup
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