4-H fate tugs at the heart

I pledge my Head to clearer thinking, my Heart to greater loyalty, my Hands to larger service and my Health to better living, for my club, my community, my country and my world.

I didn't have to look that up. Even though I haven't thought about or uttered those words in decades, I remember them vividly. And I would bet my life that I'm not alone.

For those of you who don't recognize it, that's the 4-H pledge. 4-H -- Head, Heart, Hands and Health. 4-H -- a club for youth that's been around for 100 years, teaching young people about leadership, citizenship, research, engineering, values, healthy living, and doing so in an environment of honest, old-fashioned fun.

The Georgia Board of Regents this week suggested the complete elimination of all Georgia 4-H programs as part of a package of budget cuts presented to the General Assembly.

Unfortunately, it's just one of hundreds -- maybe even thousands -- of proposed cuts and actual ones that Georgia is facing this year. I could not begin to fathom the weight of having to decide whether or not to cut health care services or providing for children, taking care of our elderly or the handicapped.

I have been to the State Capitol this session and I have seen the faces of our senators and representatives as they struggle with decisions that pit conscience against numbers. A pall has settled in those hallowed halls.

If you get a spare second today, pray for them. Pray hard.

When I read the first of the week that 4-H had been offered up for elimination, I was sad. Don't get me wrong, I'm also concerned and saddened and downright angered by a great deal of the other cuts, but the mention of 4-H hit an emotion I can't quite put my finger on.

It took me back to a day when I was a painfully shy child afraid to talk above a whisper to someone I wasn't blood kin to. That girl grew to be able to stand up in front of a room full of people and talk about near about anything.

It took me back to sitting at the County Extension Office in the afternoons, practicing my speech for District Project Achievement. Riding on a hot school bus to Rock Eagle and Wahsega and Tybee and Jekyll for camp in the summer.

I never will forget a boy in my county who was sitting behind me on the bus to a leadership camp one summer telling me how excited he was to be going to Jekyll Island for a 4-H trip because he'd never been anywhere outside the town he was born in.

He was 16.

"This might be the only time I ever get to see the ocean, so I'm going to stare at it long and hard so I can burn it in my brain," he said.

Even though I was just a teenager, I realized then how much 4-H was giving a lot of people. A chance to see things, do things that quite possibly make an impact, for many, on the rest of their lives. Jackie Kennedy was a 4-H'er. So were Johnny Carson and Herschel Walker.

4-H affects 7 million youth. Thirty-six percent of 4-H'ers live in rural communities with less than 10,000 people. That's a good chunk of our state. Speaking of which, if Georgia no longer has a 4-H program, it will be the only state in the country to not have one.

Like some have said, I hope it's just for shock factor, this proposal to eliminate Georgia 4-H.

I hope there's a better way.

Contact columnist Mandy Flynn at flyn1862@bellsouth.net.