Kirk and Peggy Gresham’s 4-H Know Your Government Club has been meeting since November, learning about the democratic process.
“And now we take the kids to Olympia,” says Kirk. “It demystifies it for them. It’s not as intimidating once you’ve been up there.”
While there this weekend they’ll participate with other 4-Hers in mock trials, attend a legislative dinner, and tour the Capitol and the Temple of Justice.
“To get a tour from a justice!” says Peggy. “And for the kids to sit up on the bench. Wow! It’s just a really neat opportunity.”
“Austin,” continues Peggy, “was a big guy, 6-foot-2, but with zero confidence in himself. But he borrowed his dad’s shoes, borrowed a tie, went to Value Village and bought a suit. And you could just see him unfold as he walked down those halls.”
This is the Greshams’ 25th year as 4-H leaders in Clark County. They began in 1992 with projects focusing on computers, woodworking, and leadership and citizenship. These days they have a Know Your Government club, a Llama Club, and a Shooting Sports Club.
Over the years, they figure they’ve mentored well over 100 kids. And they now have second-generation 4-Hers in the Llama Club, the children of kids they had years ago.
But Kirk’s 4-H history runs even further back. He began as a 4-H club member in 1954.
4-H in Clark County
To learn more about 4-H in Clark County, go to http://extension.wsu.edu
“I did dairy cows, entomology, and cooking,’’ Kirk said. “I baked bread and took it to the State Fair, and oatmeal cookies, and all kinds of stuff.”
Kirk says he still has his 4-H project record books from 63 years ago. And while some things have changed in the past 63 years — record books are now online, with apps for phone and tablet — others remain unchanged.
“4-H,” says Peggy, “is about setting a goal at the beginning of the year, and then doing the work. It’s a display of what you’ve done. The kids are judged against their own standard.”
That makes 4-H a great fit for kids with special needs, the Greshams say.
“You’re not comparing kid with kid,” says Peggy.
“Each kid is competing against himself or herself,” Kirk adds.
The Greshams began doing llamas when their daughter Monica, who uses a wheelchair, turned nine — old enough to join 4-H.
“The llama obstacle course has 10 obstacles in a given competition,” says Kirk. “We built the obstacles and we made them wide enough Monica could get her chair through them. We did have to adapt if the animal had to do something she couldn’t do. Go over a jump, say. But someone else would clip on a lead and double lead them through those obstacles.”
The Greshams have gone on to accommodate kids with a variety of special needs.
“You can never anticipate what might be an issue,” says Kirk. “You have to be prepared to think on your feet. We’ve had a number of ADHD kids, autistic kids. You have to be aware, and you have to accommodate.”
“Once you identify special needs instances,” Kirk continues, “the parent knows the child better than anyone. So we say, ‘You need to tell me what the limitations are.’ We rely a lot on the parents. It’s a team effort.”
“So with Elijah, in archery, we move it where he can hit it. Normally, the targets are set at 10, 15 and 20 yards. But at the Fair shoot last year I said we’re going to set it at five yards for Elijah. And last week he was shooting at 10. But not hitting it very often. So (his mother and I) emailed. I was concerned he was leaving frustrated because he wasn’t having very many accomplishments.”
The Greshams met in Maryland in 1974. Kirk had just returned from Vietnam, and Peggy was working on the internet before it was called that, back in the days of ARPANET and Telenet.
Married now for almost 40 years, Kirk is retired from a career in accounting and financial analysis, Peggy, from computer programming and systems analysis. And their old 4-Hers still keep in touch.
“Kristin graduated from West Point,” says Peggy. “And on her first deployment to Baghdad, she called the kids during (the county) Fair. ‘I know you guys are at Fair. Just thinking about you.’ She was quite the role model for them. And Natalie is in her last year of residency at OHSU. She was our first alpaca kid. She showed that alpacas can do those things. And now she wants to come back and judge llamas.”
“And they give credit to 4-H,” says Kirk. “To the record books, the public speaking, and so on.”
“4-H,” says Peggy, “is a safe place to learn.”
“Hopefully,” Kirk adds, “they’ll grow up to be contributing positive citizens.”