REFUGIO COUNTY – For nearly four years, Candace Moeller has served as the Texas Agrilife Extension agent for Refugio County, and a big part of that job is working with local youths through the popular 4-H program.
Sign-ups for the program serving children ages 5-18 are still underway, but Moeller said there were 149 enrolled in Refugio County 4-H activities last year, and she hopes for at least that many participants this year.
“We are a very rural county, but we have a lot of kids involved, and they are super, hard-working kids,” she said.
Whether or not a person is interested in showing livestock, there are plenty of different 4-H programs available, such as nutrition, photography, shooting sports, robotics, fashion, consumer decision making and more.
“Some people might think they don’t want to be involved in 4-H because they don’t want to show an animal — well they don’t have to,” Moeller said. “That is certainly an opportunity available to them, but it isn’t something they have to do. There are so many more activities in 4-H, something that should interest almost everyone.”
The Refugio County 4-H program has five traditional clubs and two geared toward shooting sports. Another club, representing Blanconia, was disbanded, so participants have moved to other groups. The local clubs are: Brushpoppers and Mission (both of which meet in Refugio), Roughriders (which meets in Austwell-Tivoli), Bonnie View (which meets in that community) and livestock judging, which meets in Refugio. The archery and shotgun clubs also meet in Refugio.
Students don’t have to reside in the communities in which the clubs meet. In fact, Moeller said they often travel throughout the county to participate.
Moeller said she herself did not participate in 4-H as a child, instead enrolling in FFA (Future Farmers of America), which is a similar organization. The difference is that 4-H is administered by the county extension office, while FFA is through school districts.
“I had a lot of friends in 4-H and grew up showing livestock, and there are a lot of similarities between the two,” she said.
Children participating in 4-H have a chance to learn new things, make new friends and grow in confidence through their experiences, Moeller said.
“What I enjoy most is seeing kids get passionate about something and have the opportunity to learn new things and have a lot of fun doing that,” she said.
In addition to local events, the kids have a chance to participate in district and state events and to travel to livestock shows in places like Fort Worth, San Antonio, San Angelo, the Rio Grande Valley and Houston.
Those who decide to show livestock can choose from steers, heifers, breeding gilts, market swine, rabbits, turkeys, sheep, goats and chickens.
Outside of livestock showing, one of the popular programs in Refugio County involves food and nutrition.
“The kids prepare a dish and talk about healthy servings and nutritional content,” Moeller said. “There is also a food challenge in which the kids are given a main ingredient and then are given 40 minutes to purchase items from the grocery store and prepare a meal.”
Regardless of their program choices in 4-H, students have the chance to earn scholarships at the local and state level, some of which range up to $20,000 to help them continue their education at the college level.
“There are some pretty amazing scholarships,” Moeller said.
Seeing children transform from shy to outgoing and from unsure of themselves to confident is another benefit of 4-H, she said.
“Even in the four years I’ve been here, a lot of students have shown so much growth,” Moeller said. “They are able to speak in public and even answer questions about 4-H when they are put on the spot.
“It’s great to see them step outside their comfort zone and experience new things.”