By Tom Rohrer
Where would Cathy Cozad’s two children be without the 4-H program? It’s a situation she has difficulty imagining.
“They’ve both grown in positive ways,” said Cozad of her 16-year-old son, Robin, and 19-year-old daughter, Erica. “I don’t know if they would have learned the responsibility, the sense of purpose and the confidence they’ve got now without 4-H.”
Erica and Robin have been members of the Humptulips Valley 4-H Club since they were seven and five respectively, and over the course of that time, have won awards, assumed leadership positions and traveled as far away as California through the program.
Created more than 50 years ago, the Humptulips Valley 4-H Club is the oldest such organization in Grays Harbor County, and focuses on more than just showing animals. Members participate in projects involving photography, natural resources, clothing and food and nutrition, among many others.
“Our club teaches our youth life skills which will help them become self-directing, contributing, and productive members of society,” said Cathy Cozad.
Cathy’s two children are certainly on that path, as they’ve seen the benefits of the club impact their lives outside of 4-H.
“I’ve become confident in public speaking situations, and now I’m on the school band council, and I’ve started Running Start full time,” said Robin, who will be a junior at Hoquiam High School this fall. “I don’t think I would be able to do that if I wasn’t in 4-H. It helped me gain that necessary confidence and responsibility.”
“For me, the leaderships skills I learned in 4-H helped me start my own Relay for Life team, and I’ve been a team captain for a couple years,” said Erica Cozad, a student at Grays Harbor Community College. “Doing demonstrations at the fair has helped with public speaking, and I’m going to regionals for Grange (a national farm based fraternal organization) for speech and I may go to nationals.”
Erica will be traveling as the Washington State Grange youth representative to a national conference in New Hampshire this coming November.
Both Erica and Robin will again be involved with demonstrations and showing at the upcoming Grays Harbor County Fair in Elma this next weekend. A four time grand champion showing chickens and rabbits in his younger teenage days, Robin will focus on photography, cooking, natural resources, mechanical sciences, and showing cats. Cathy and Erica are the head and assistant superintendents for photography and cats, a program the family is trying to raise participation in.
“I think it was three years ago that we decided to show cats, and only three kids were initially involved,” said Cathy Cozad. “This year we have seven kids showing eight cats and we hope to keep building on it. It’s a great project for kids that want to show an animal, but may not have the facilities to show a more traditional animal.”
Like other animal showings in 4-H, feline showing requires intense review from a panel of judges regarding a variety of categories and characteristics.
“We go through all the different style, like if they have a diamond face, round face. Then you move down body, and determine if it’s a long body or short body,” said Erica Cozad. “Also there is the tail, type of fur and coloration. Then there’s a health check, and you individually check limbs and the mouth.”
“Then, the judge asks a series of questions,” said Cathy Cozad. “You never know what they’ll ask so you have got to be prepared.”
At the Grays Harbor County Fair, Erica and Robin will also participate in cooking contests, public demonstrations and a variety of arts and crafts categories.
“It’s hectic, and it can be stressful because you’re moving from one thing to the next,” said Erica Cozad. “But it’s cool because you’re doing a bunch of different things and you’re never bored or sitting still.”
Along with their competitive duties, the Cozad children will also be helping out at the Grays Harbor Food Booth.
“We try to get several kids from each club to help, and without the kids we wouldn’t be able to run it,” said Cathy Cozad. “Again, they learn from this experience – how to deal with the public, how to handle money and take orders and cook food safely.”
It’s this wide variety of activities that have helped brother, sister and mother grow as individuals.
“I have more confidence because I know I’ve accomplished all these things,” said Robin Cozad, who has taught himself to play 13 instruments and plans to study archaeology in college. “Looking into the future and my goals, I know I can accomplish them.”
“You’re taught at a young age to be responsible and take pride in what you do,” said Erica Cozad, a past grand champion in showing rabbits who is looking to become a physical therapist. “That responsibility carries over to other areas of your life.”
“I’ve grown too as parent and leader,” said Cathy Cozad. “Before Erica was born, you couldn’t get me to do something like stand in front of group of people. I’m still shy but more outgoing and that’s because I’ve seen that my kids could do it, even when they were little.”
For parents and children looking to get involved with 4-H, Cathy and Erica have words of advice.
“Just go to a meeting and see what it’s like and see what activities you can do,” said Erica.
“Going to the fair is a great start because you can see the wide variety of activities,” said Cathy Cozad. “There is something for everyone.”
For more information on the Washington State 4-H programs, visit http://4h.wsu.edu/index.htm. The Grays Harbor County Fair runs from August 7 – 11 at the fairgrounds in Elma. More information on hours, admission, and events can be found here.