4-H sewing leaders produce more than great garments

4-H sewing leaders leave stitches on the heart of members while teaching life skills that last a lifetime.

4-H project leaders make a difference in the lives of young people in a number of ways. As I read the 2016 State 4-H Awards applications, I couldn’t help but think of the project leaders that shared their time with me over the years and helped me gain so many valuable life skills. The following is the story of a sewing leader who made a difference in my life. Consider how you can make a difference in the life a young person in your community.

I might not be a professional seamstress, but I can mend items, sew on a button, create costumes my children enjoy, help with a school play, design a quilt, make a tree skirt and have fun creating whatever my heart desires because someone took the time to sit next to that little girl who wanted to learn to sew on that Holly Hobby sewing machine over 30 years ago. I finally upgraded to a White sewing machine with a foot peddle that I needed to prop up on a phone book, but the patience of my sewing teacher, Pam, was a true blessing. I learned how to use a seam ripper like a professional and stitched and re-stitched many a seam. I learned to properly use an iron, hem, measure and pick out fabrics. I learned the value of the items I needed to use and that good construction was important because it would mean the difference between surviving the washer, the playground and great adventures.

Good fabric, fine stitching and attention to detail would make a difference in the end. Just as hard work would pay off. I didn’t learn to just sew all those years, I learned to be a better person. I learned determination as I worked to get it just right. I learned patience as I slowed the machine down to carefully make pleats, button holes and straight seams. I learned how to ask questions when I didn’t understand the pattern. I learned how to plan and schedule my time to fit in dance, baton, sewing, school work and all the activities a child could imagine. I learned that sometimes you just get it wrong; mistakes happen and it’s how you handle them that defines who you are.

You can start over, try it again and not make the same mistakes, try it a different way or give up. I may have tried each of those techniques at one time or another, but through each of them I learned valuable lessons. Basically, every action has a reaction and in life you decide then accept the consequences of those actions. I was supported by volunteers who cared and helped me navigate the adventure we call life. They helped me learn by doing.

Pam was kind and never compared me to other members who sewed better, quicker or more fashionable items. She took me to the store to pick the pattern, material, notions I liked and guided me in being realistic. She easily could have taken on an easier student, but she stuck with me, a mediocre sewer. What did Pam offer to that young 4-H member? She offered the opportunity to gain a new skill, great conversations in the hours we sewed together and we watched each other grow for over 12 years. I learned to be humble in my project work yet proud of what I accomplished. She never gave up on me, she repeated instructions, demonstrated techniques, let me use her machine and helped me create garments that made me feel special, such as my confirmation dress, graduation dress, first business suit and more. Years later those skills were put to use as I became a wife, homemaker and Mom.

I am sure Pam thought she was teaching me how to sew at that time, but today I believe she knows she did a whole lot more for that young 4-H member who just wanted to sew. She taught me how to be a better person. I hope that as I volunteer and attempt to share my skills with others, I can demonstrate the patience that she did, encourage when things go wrong and inspire youth to continue challenging themselves.

Pam is just one of the many volunteers that made a difference in my life; every project I participated in taught me a great number of life skills and each leader shared the best of who they were with me. What will you share with the next generation? Do you inspire someone to give their best effort? Can you share a favorite hobby with two or three young people?

Take a moment today to consider how you can volunteer to make a difference in your community, and contact your Michigan State University Extension county office. Volunteers can serve for a few weeks or all year, the choice is yours. For inspiration, check out a county fair near you to view the exhibits created by young people in the community.

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