Goshen News, Goshen, IN

Local News

July 17, 2013

4-H Family of the Year embraces lifestyle, lessons

ELKHART — In 1996, first-grader Brittany McKinley brought home a single sheet of paper promoting 4-H.

Seventeen years later the entire family is bringing home the Elkhart County 4-H Family of the Year award.

“I remember asking my mom what it was all about,” said Brittany referring to the flier she brought home.

Neither of her parents, Pat or Bob, had been involved in 4-H growing up, but they decided to sign Brittany up to try one of the craft projects.

“I made a lot of the girl’s clothes and I did quite a bit of canning,” Pat said.

So with some help from her mom, Brittany made a place mat out of an American flag. The second year she created a sewing box.

The first two years were spent in Mini 4-H, now known as Exploring 4-H.

“Those years taught Brittany how to be responsible, complete a project, follow directions and gave her an insight of what it would be like when she could become a part of the regular 4-H in third grade,” Pat said.

Brittany stayed in 4-H until she aged out at 18, completing many projects including latch-hook, cake decorating, canning and poster projects.

Brittany’s sister Taylar, now 14, has been a part of 4-H since she was 4 months old.

“I toted her along to all the club meetings with Brittany,” Pat said. “And at just a few years old she was already doing community service — she helped pick up trash after the fair.”

Taylar remembers her first project — a latch-hook three-colored rainbow with a heart on one end.

Since that first year, Taylar has completed as many as 16 projects in one year, including poster projects, canning, rockets, miscellaneous crafts, models, genealogy, fabric crafts, food preserved, foods baked and collections.

Her collection began before she joined Exploring 4-H.

“We would go to a store at Christmas time and she would just go right over to the nutcrackers,” Pat said. “Something about them just captivated her.”

By five, she had begun a collection. Today, she has more than 120 nutcrackers of all shapes and sizes.

The collection is carefully stored in boxes in the attic. Taylar selects several each year to display during the Christmas season.

And there are plenty more projects that Taylar would like to try during her last four years of 4-H.

“I think I’d like to try sewing and photography and maybe flora culture and child development,” she said. “I just think 4-H is fun. You get to meet a lot of interesting people.”

For the McKinley’s and many other families, 4-H is a year-round event.

“We keep very busy,” Pat said. “When the fair ends, we are starting on projects for the next year.

Both Pat and Bob have offered their help and expertise over the years.

The family has been involved in the Goshen Go-Getters 4-H Club and for the last two years has been a part of the 21 Century 4-Hers. Both Pat and Bob are on the advisory board for the club and Pat is a leader for Exploring 4-H.

Bob’s willingness to pitch in during the past 17 years helping set up and tear down during fair time earned him the Friend of 4-H award in 2011.

“They’re the brains,” said Bob speaking of his family, “And I’m the muscle.”

For all the time McKinley family has put in to 4-H, they feel they’ve received far more in return.

“I could never stand up in front of a group of people and talk,” Brittany said. “I couldn’t even give an oral report at school. After being in 4-H, well, now people can’t get me to shut up.”

She spent one summer away from the fair after aging out of 4-H, but is now back having completed a three-year member-in-training program with the fair board. This year she’s is on the souvenir committee.

Brittany met her husband Jacob Geaugh at the fair and the two held their wedding reception on the fairgrounds earlier this year.

Talyar is in the middle of an apprenticeship on the fair board and will help out with several events during the fair.

Pat said that 4-H has taught Taylar how to stand up for what she believes in and to do what’s right.

“4-H is a huge part of our life,” Pat said. “We are pretty much here at the fair for the whole month. I think the 4-H has helped keep the girls busy and out of trouble.”

Receiving the 4-H Farm Family of the Year award caught the family completely by surprise.

“We were all just shocked. I mean we are just doing what needs to be done,” Pat said. “I know some of my friends call us the 4-H family and they ask why we put so much time and effort into something we don’t get paid for — but it’s all about the kids and what it does for them.”

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