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4-H leader teaches kids through fun Outdoor activities help environment CARROLL COUNTY FARM/BUSINESS


Quiet, unassuming John Sies would rather have the young members of his 4-H Outdoor Fun Club take center stage than be there himself.

But it has been primarily through his love of kids and the outdoors that the club has easily melded environmental education and fun.

"That is a club we are very proud of," said Robert M. Shirley, Carroll County Extension Agent in charge of 4-H programs. "They are addressing one of the real important issues for our country today." They are a bunch of young people and adult volunteers learning something about the environment and doing something about the situation in Carroll County and on a larger scale, said Mr. Shirley.

The club, which is about six years old, began as a group of kids interested in outdoor activities. Eventually, the group grew to become a full-fledged 4-H club.

"We had these youngsters coming back month after month looking for something to do, and suddenly I found out I was the leader of the Outdoor Fun Club," said Mr. Sies, a volunteer state hunter safety instructor for 15 years.

Club members plan the activities with some guidance from the leaders, he said.

"In the early days of the club, I challenged them to come up with something halfway sane that I couldn't find somebody to do with them," Mr. Sies said.

The students have yet to meet that challenge.

From hiking and bicycle trips to presentations at the Carroll County Farm Museum's Ag Days and building bluebird boxes for service projects, the club has participated in a wide variety of activities.

The spectrum is so wide that the group needs a pool of about 20 adults to lead the 35 members in the various projects.

"I don't know all about all this stuff, so I find someone to work with them to do the things they want to do," Mr. Sies said. "We're involved in so many activities that I have to dip into a few more pots."

Environmentalism is a byproduct of the kids' activities, he said.

"It's not from the standpoint of waving placards in picket lines, but on an educational basis. Because of the types of activities we do, they are keenly aware of a lot of the environmental issues that we face today.

"I take them out to have some fun and when they're not looking, try to teach them something," he said. Leaders try to be unbiased when presenting information, Mr. Sies said.

"The whole program is an effort to give these youngsters information and help them to make a sensible and educated decision on the issues, much more than trying to impart our own beliefs. We're trying to help them develop the skills they are going to need to be productive adults."

Mr. Sies is also dedicated to bringing environmental information to 4-H-ers statewide, said Mr. Shirley.

"He is really very much the key person in the county and playing a key role throughout the 4-H program in the state in bringing us up to date on environmental education programs and helping us to present this stuff," Mr. Shirley said.

For example, Mr. Sies has attended several national meetings on environmental issues and distributed the information on both county and state levels.

In addition, he and other Fun Club leaders have worked to maintain current programs for their members. When the state Department of Natural Resources decided to cancel the Youth Hunter Education Challenge, the leaders ran the statewide program as a volunteer effort.

The challenge is a competition that focuses on shooting skills, wildlife conservation and individual responsibility, Mr. Shirley said.

"He's a tremendous volunteer, helping us to understand this information and use it to develop young people," Mr. Shirley said.

But despite the accolades, Mr. Sies says he does it all for the members. "I hate to sound soapy, but I care about the kids and the environment," he said.

"When my boy was growing up, I didn't try and make him do all these things. Now I'm doing them with everybody else's kid, but they're there because they want to be."

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