Park Guide: A Life Enriched by 4-H

What started out as an effort by my parents to get my sister and me involved in 4-H while we were being homeschooled has turned into a lifelong adventure.  4-H has influenced my life in more ways than I can count. My 4-H experience started at age 7 with the Barnyard Bandits 4-H Livestock Club. The first project I had in 4-H was to raise a market lamb named Molly. Molly taught us a lot! Through my first 4-H project, we learned the basics of sheep care, the ins and outs of showing and the importance of keeping good records. Many of the tools and skills that we learned during the first few years in 4-H are still used and implemented with the sheep we raise today.

We quickly learned that 4-H also had a lot to offer outside of the livestock arena. Over the years, 4-H became something I enjoyed doing almost more than anything else. 4-H became my sport. Through
4-H, I became actively involved in completing project records, which taught me record keeping, organization and creativity, while participating in local and state community service and citizenship projects. Holding club and county offices taught me leadership skills. Competing with presentations helped me to improve at public speaking. 4-H gave me the necessary tools to get me where I am today both personally and professionally.

Personally, 4-H helped build in me a love for raising sheep. Even though I have long since aged out of completing sheep projects or competing in junior livestock shows, my animals are something that I cannot imagine living without. Professionally, 4-H opened the doors to my job with the National Park Service. For many years, I was a volunteer with the FRESH program at the Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site. The FRESH (Flat Rock’s Exceptional Sandburg Helpers) program is a partnership between Henderson County 4-H and the park that allows students the opportunity to work at the goat barn at the Sandburg home.

After aging out of the program and starting college, I was asked by the barn ranger if I would be interested in working as a summer park guide at the goat barn. The job mainly involved working with the goats and providing interpretative programs about the animals. For me, the job was perfect because it involved working with animals and public speaking. That opportunity led me to the position I still hold today with the National Park Service. People ask me on a regular basis how I came to work with the National Park Service. Most people ask if I took college classes or had special training in order to qualify for this job, but the answer is very simple: I do what I do today all because of 4-H.

Now, as an adult volunteer with the Barnyard Bandits 4-H Club and the 4-H Advisory Committee, it is equally rewarding to give back to a program that gave so much to me.

Katie Dotson is a member of NC 4-H Honor Club.  4-H is the Youth Development Program of NC Cooperative Extension, which is a division of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at NCSU.  Visit , call 697-4891 or email to learn more about 4-H activities or endowments.

July 4-H opportunities:

Nature Explorers Camp at Bullington Gardens for rising 4th – 6th graders will be July 8 – 12, 9:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m. This is a week-long opportunity for kids to explore the plants and wildlife found in fields, streams, gardens and forests. The cost is $120. Call 698-6104 for a registration form or visit

West District 4-H Adult Volunteer Leader Training will be Saturday, July 27, at the Mountain Horticultural Crops Research and Extension Center in Mills River, noon – 4:00 p.m. This will be an exciting day of hands-on workshops and fun! Learn about these activities: 4-H Shooting Sports, Robotics, Electricity, and Working with Cloverbuds (ages 5-8). Lunch will be provided. RSVP by July 19 to or call 697-4891. Be sure to say which classes you plan to take when you sign up.



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