Wednesday, July 17, 2024

4-H celebrates another year of learning and leadership

Sophie Kuijper Dickson
Bristol Nov. 25, 2023
Youth of all ages left their barn clothes at home, dressing instead in their finest formal wear, and filled the Jack Graham Community Centre on Saturday evening for the Shawville 4-H club’s year-end awards banquet.
Members and families of Quebec’s largest 4-H club arrived carrying steaming pots filled with the likes of meatballs, lasagna, scalloped potatoes and pasta salads, all contributions for the potluck dinner.
But before attendees could fill their plates, the club’s vice-president Rebecca Nugent had a few words for the parents who supported the members throughout the year.
“To the parents, thank you for all your support and encouragement. Thank you for always going above and beyond, whether that be driving members to meetings or shows, or even staying up late to help us get ready for a show,” Nugent said. “We appreciate you more than you’ll ever know.”
Following dinner, club president Laura Mayhew offered a few reflections from her 11 years with the club.
“That is probably the thing I love most about 4-H, is that we’re constantly learning,” Mayhew said.
“No matter if it’s your first year in 4-H or your twelfth, there’s always something to learn and there’s always something to teach.”
Then began the most anticipated portion of the evening – the awards ceremony.
Club leaders took to the stage to announce the long list of awards and trophies that had been collected by members throughout the year, as well as a handful of awards that had not yet been announced.
Following the awards, DJ Josh (Lafleur) took over the sound system, playing country and square dance tunes for the rowdy crowd into the wee hours of the night.
One notable hit was the Virginia Reel line dance number, where “everybody just joined in,” according to Nugent.
Tales from the Royal Winter Fair
Three club members were fresh off the heels of showing at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair in Toronto, one of the largest agricultural fairs in the country. They were Kasey Lafleur of Mansfield, Rebecca Nugent of Luskville, and Reese Rusenstrom of Bristol, who was unable to attend the banquet because she was in Alberta showing at another fair.
For Lafleur, showing beef at the Royal had long been a dream, but not one she thought she would realize so quickly, and at such a young age.
Last year she made the trip to the Royal to watch from the sidelines and get a sense for what it was all about. It was then she decided she wanted to have a go at it.
Lafleur said stepping foot in the big arena for the first time “was very scary,” but that another competitor at the fair gave her a chance to practice showing their Angus in the junior Angus show.
“It gave me a chance to take a breath and calm down in the ring,” Lafleur said. “And then when I was showing my heifer, my goal was just to make it out of one class, which I did.”
She did more than that though. Lafleur made it to the finals, where she received honourable mention, which is third place out of 140 or so competitors.
“I was so happy. It was really nice to see all the work I’d put in this year pay off.”
Lafleur is 14 years old, has been a 4-H member for only a year, and already she is stepping into the role of president of the club for the 2023-2024 season.
“It’s exciting and nerve wracking at the same time. It’s a big role to fill,” she said, adding that she’s comforted by knowing the leaders of the club will support her.
“I’d really like to bring the club closer together. In our club there’s a lot of cliques. Different people have their groups. I’d like to have one big team all working together,” Lafleur said.
She already has plans in the works for various team-bonding activities for members, including escape rooms, axe-throwing and soap-making workshops.
She said in all the early mornings, long travel days and competition pressures that filled her last year, she’s never once second guessed her commitment to the club.
“It teaches kids responsibility, and about agriculture, that their food does not just come from a store, that it’s actually from a farm and you have to work to get it.”
Rebecca Nugent, outgoing vice president of the club and veteran at the Royal Winter Fair, showed a dairy calf at the fair for the last time this year.
This past year was also her last with the local club.
At 22 years old, she is no longer eligible to compete in Ontario. While she could compete in Quebec for another year, she said she was ready to step away.
“It’s my tenth year in 4-H so I thought it would be cool to end on year 10,” Nugent said, admitting it was not an easy decision.
Nugent grew up on her family’s beef farm in Luskville. She said she surprised many when she decided to show dairy.
“Beef are nice but they’re obviously bigger, so they’re a little harder to train,” she said.
She’s been showing at the Royal since 2017.
“At other little fairs you’re in the ring with 15 people. But at the Royal there’s heats,” she explained, adding that there were 120 or so seniors she was competing against, so each heat had around 30 people in it.
“There’s a lot of pressure. The judge only picks six or eight people to make it out of your heat into the final.”
Nugent said this year she did not make it out of her heat.
“The competition is just so stiff you have to do everything perfect,” she said. “But it was still good. My calf walked good, so I couldn’t have asked for better.”
Creating leaders
Nugent said when she first started with the club a decade ago she tended to keep to herself.
“Whenever I first started at 4-H I was one of those shy kids that would never say anything and just stand there at the meeting and just listen and observe everything, but was never really able to speak up and talk,” she remembered.
But over the years that has changed. Her experience with the club has helped her develop strong communication skills, and improved her own self-confidence.
Now in her third year of a commerce degree at Carleton University, she is beginning to apply for jobs, and the years she spent as a leader in the 4-H club improve her chances.
“When people look at my resumé and they see 4-H, and that stands out to them as a really good background to have,” she said.
Outgoing president Laura Mayhew echoed this appreciation. She, like Nugent, was a shy kid, uncomfortable with public speaking, and most other leadership roles that drew attention to her.
None of that was evident in the speech she gave on Saturday evening, where, with great charisma, she highlighted the power of the 4-H community, and thanked all those who supported the club.
Lafleur, Nugent and Mayhew all highlighted the important role the club plays in connecting younger generations to Pontiac’s agricultural community.
Each in their own way, they admitted that, while the work of showing animals was not easy, involving many late nights and early mornings, they were motivated by the team and the community to which the club connected them.
Nugent said she sees the club as important to promoting agriculture to younger generations.
“Over the years [farming] has been going down a lot, a lot of people have moved away from it,” she said. “Some people haven’t had that experience to grow up on a farm and learn all these skills that you don’t learn anywhere else. I find it’s really important for the youth to have that too.”
Mayhew said sharing agricultural skills and knowledge with younger generations was central to her role as president.
“It’s important for the children in the community, because soon we will be the community,” she said.


This article is available free to all subscribers to The Equity. If you are a subscriber, please enter your email address and password below.


If you are a subscriber but have not yet set up your online account, please contact Liz Draper at to do so.


To become a subscriber to The Equity, please use our Subscribe page or contact