All across Carroll County, 4-H kids are working to ready their projects for the Carroll County 4-H and FFA Fair.
Animals are clipped and cleaned, finishing touches are added to artwork, photos are matted, while works of wooden and metal art get a final shine.
The fair, which starts Saturday, is a massive undertaking with a myriad of unseen moving parts that keep it functioning.
One group of teens are an integral part of the work that goes on behind the scenes: the 4-H Ambassador Team tasked with driving outreach efforts, interactive fair activities and leadership experiences.
For the first time, this year’s fair will see no Mr. or Miss 4-H — formerly considered leaders of the program. Each ambassador will take on an equal leadership role.
According to 4-H educator Becky Ridgeway, not having a Mr. and Miss 4-H this year has allowed their five seniors an opportunity to lead their own projects with committees built of the junior Ambassador Team.
Ridgeway believes the Ambassador program will stand on its own very well without a Mr. and Mrs. 4-H.
“An emphasis has been placed on building team relations and not being dependent on two individuals to initiate activities,” she said. “We want to ensure the program is inclusive and welcoming to all 4-H members who want to participate in this leadership opportunity.”
Here are the senior ambassadors:
According to Ridgeway, 14-year-old Andrew Knatz has a lot of passion about the 4-H program and is very knowledgeable, especially in the swine project area. She said he’s always willing to pitch in to help anywhere he is needed.
A ninth grader at Manchester Valley High, Andrew has been in 4-H since he was 6-years-old. He has been a junior ambassador the past three years. He said the team assists fair chairpersons, including the intake of and display of projects.
“I realized quickly the commitment it required and loved the friendships I built and how much I learned from being a part of the team and serving the community,” he said.
Andrew named some of the things he will be doing.
“We participate in Children’s Day where we play games with kids to hopefully teach them about 4-H,” he said. ‘We also help with the cake auction, which brings in a lot of revenue for the fair. We help at the livestock buyers auction dinner to help set-up, prepare and serve food and drinks to the buyers.
Then he spoke of the program.
“The Ambassador program is important because it gives youth an opportunity to give back to the community in many ways, and also helps them gain life skills,” he said. “The program has helped me learn how to better work as a team, improved my leadership skills and improved my social skills, to name a few.”
Ridgeway describes Elena Castonguay as very caring and compassionate, excited to serve the 4-H program, with great foundation of public speaking and many great ideas, and a strong desire to give back to the program.
Elena, 15, is a sophomore at Westminster High School who has been a 4-H member since she was 7 years old. She says she loves to bake, a strong category at the fair.
“I have already gotten so much from being part of the ambassador program and continue to gain skills and traits every day,” Elena said. “During the fair, we assist the judging process by helping to clerk and moving entries onto shelves for display to the public. We judge the clovers’ projects and entries by giving them positive feedback on their crafts and other projects. We also help out around the cake auction and livestock auction to ensure both events run as smoothly as possible.”
Ridgeway said Sophia Sahm is well-organized and informed on any idea that she presents. She “has great ideas in making the Ambassador Team more visible through public relations, including social media, and “she jumps in with both feet and fully commits to her ideas.”
Sophia, 15, is a sophomore at Francis Scott Key High. She was 9-years old when she joined 4-H. A baker at heart, she also likes to show her work in photography and arts and crafts. She applied to become an ambassador after watching her friends on the team.
“I thought it was really cool that they could take charge of activities and interact with different people at the fair,” Sophia said.
A junior ambassador for two years, Sophia said she likes all the activities they participate in, especially Senior Day.
“At Senior Day, we hand out ice cream and water and there is a performance. The seniors really seem to enjoy. It’s great to see them smile and laugh,” she said. “Personally, I have gained a lot of confidence and communications skills working with the Ambassador Team. It’s been great.”
“Ashlynn [Kidwell] is an extremely impressive 4-H member who is involved in many different areas of the 4-H program from a local, state and national level,” Ridgeway said.
But Ashlynn credits the Carroll County Ambassador Team as her gateway to a whole new level of 4-H.
“Without starting on the county level with the Ambassador Team, I wouldn’t have been able to have opportunities with the state and national levels of 4-H,” she said. “I have served on the Maryland State 4-H Council, currently the [vice president] of Planning and Outreach, and I never thought I’d run for an office. I am one of three Maryland teens in the National 4-H Council’s Ag Innovators program; and I’m on the junior board for the Maryland State Fair.”
Involved with 4-H since she was 8, Ashlynn, now 16, is a junior at Century High School. She spoke of a few of the service projects the ambassadors work on throughout the year.
“We help with county 4-H events such as the Midwinter Blahs, Demonstration and Public Speaking Days, and the fair,” Ashlynn said.
Then, she named her favorites, including Adopt a Family, and making cards for front line workers during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to Ashlynn, Adopt a Family helps them see things we might take for granted, while making cards helped them see how much front line workers do, often without getting credit.
“The great thing about this team is that we — the youth — come up with ideas and it is our responsibility to make sure to complete the projects,” she said. “It’s a safe place to try out our ideas and learn from our successes and setbacks.”
Ridgeway said Makenna Steele has excellent interview and public speaking skills, who is very mature for her age.
“Makenna is very passionate about serving her community and really helping others,” Ridgeway added.
In 4-H since she was about 8, this Westminster High School senior followed in her sister’s footsteps by joining the Ambassador Team.
“We do mostly work that is behind the scenes and that I view as most important,” Makenna said. “The set-up and take-down and helping people. ... It’s about helping everyone who is running it and helping to make sure it all runs smoothly.”
She names woodworking as her favorite project, but Makenna has another favorite project — one that just won a $5,000 grant from Invisalign, a company that makes products aimed at aligning teeth.
Makenna started her own charity a few years back. She’s been collecting used dolls and action figures for five years, cleaning them up, repackaging and gifting to kids in need nationally and internationally. She credits 4-H with giving her necessary skills.
“It’s taught me how to work with other people, even during challenging times, like a pandemic.”