A unique position
A long lost 4-H post returns to Jasper County thanks to a gift from a former employee
Kasey Reid is trying to re-energize 4-H in middle Georgia’s Jasper County, and along with that comes fighting age-old perceptions of the student program.
She has filled a position that sat vacant for nearly a decade and was made possible through a one-of-a-kind collaboration between Robert and Jean Fowler, BB&T Bank, the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences and the Jasper County Board of Education. The result: The Robert and Jean Fowler 4-H Agent Endowment, boosted by a $1.2 million donation from the couple and the bank.
As the Jasper County extension coordinator and 4-H agent, Reid is focused on increasing the visibility of a program she has seen enhance students’ public speaking and leadership skills, develop strong character traits and introduce kids to potential careers.
But her biggest challenge: convincing students in grades 5-12 and their parents that 4-H is about more than chickens and cows. It comes up often.
“4-H is not the same as it was generations ago. Some of the things are still the same, but plenty has changed,” Reid says. “There’s so much that 4-H can offer kids.”
What has stayed the same is the impact that Reid hopes 4-H can have on the lives of hundreds of students, just like she experienced while growing up in Terrell County.
“It meant so much to me,” says the 32-year-old Georgia native (MA ’99). “It’s an opportunity to try new things in a safe environment. It’s not so much if you pass or fail, or win the competition or not.”
The genesis of the gift was from Jean Fowler, who retired last year after 10 years as the county’s extension agent. During her tenure, state budget cuts forced the elimination of a full-time 4-H agent position. Two part-time 4-H program assistants did the best they could to keep the program going.
The Fowlers decided a good way to recognize Jean’s work in Jasper county would be to help fund a new full-time 4-H position and to lay the groundwork for an endowment to keep the program intact for years to come.
“It was truly a collective dream and it brings tears to my eyes to think about this, that it came to be,” Jean Fowler says. “I know the difference in the lives of the children and families that a fired-up 4-H agent can make. I think Kasey is that.”
Rob Fowler, too, has seen the difference that 4-H can make in young lives. His nephew won a national 4-H beef cattle competition, and his niece was a national winner in public speaking.
“To this day, she speaks so much better than me,” he says, laughing.
The Fowlers and Rob Cooper, director of development for the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, believe the gift could be a pilot program for 4-H offices nationwide. “We think it’s the first of its kind in the country,” Cooper says.
Georgia 4-H has more than 185,000 students in grades 5-12. About 250 students are involved in Jasper County, a figure Reid hopes will increase as students get excited about camps, Project Achievement, 4-H Challenge Bowl (the county’s two teams recently placed in the top 10 at the Georgia National Fair), and exhibiting at the fair in Perry and Georgia State Fair in Macon.
“Growing up in 4-H and then in my involvement in it as an agent, I really love what I do,” says Reid, who worked in 4-H in Tennessee and in Worth County, Ga. “I hope they can see that in whatever contests and projects we do, it’s not just bringing home blue ribbons. It’s going and having a good time and learning from the experience.”