PROFILE 2023 — Creating future leaders

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 18, 2023

 4-H brings agricultural opportunities, teaches life skills 

 Rachael Fraley has been the extension educator and heading since 2014, coordinating its Lawrence County 4-H programs. 

For her, it was a natural career path. She grew up in the 4-H program, as a member of the Starlight 4-H Club of the Symmes Valley area and wanted to dedicate her future to it. 

Enola Cade watches as Lawrence County Fair princess Isabella Kerns kisses one of the entrants in the steer show on July 13, 2022. (Kayla Niece | For The Ironton Tribune)

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“When I was 12 years old, I said, ‘This is what I want to do with the rest of my life,’” she said. 

Fraley graduated from Ironton and attended the University of Kentucky in Lexington, where she finished with an undergraduate degree in career technical education with an agriculture option. She then went to West Virginia University in Morgantown, where she earned her Master’s in extension education. 

It was at WVU where she worked for four years at the extension office as an assistant educator in training. From there, she came to Lawrence County, where she began the job in her office, located in the county courthouse. 

Joe Jackson was grand champion in pack goats in the 4-H & FFA Dairy Goat, Pack Goat, Pygmy Goat, & Breeding Goat Show at the Lawrence County Fair. (The Ironton Tribune | Heath Harrison)

“As 4-H educator, I oversee all of the community clubs within our county,” she said. “We have about 30. And, with that, we have 125-ish trained volunteers. They have to go through yearly training, such as Protecting Our Minors training, and yearly things to help enhance their education piece. I do all the training for those and help manage those clubs.” 

One of the biggest undertakings for the 4-H office is the Lawrence County Fair, which takes place every July, where the Junior Fair consists of a week of livestock competitions and projects. About 650 4-H and FFA members take part in that event, Fraley said. 

“Anyone who competes in the Junior Fair, they have to be involved with 4-H or FFA to be eligible to participate,” she said. 

 “We partner with the Lawrence County Agricultural Society to make sure all of the kids complete the requirements to be able to compete. And all those kids do quality assurance training. I do all the training for that.”

4-H members can start at age 5 in kindergarten a Cloverbud, Fraley said, and can take part in the noncompetitive events and activities. At age 8, in the third grade, they can begin to compete in the junior fair and life skills and livestock events.

In addition to the 650 members of traditional clubs 4-H reaches with the fair, Fraley deals with 550 students in Lawrence County through school-based and training-based programming.

Zoie Clay is the new program assistant for Lawrence County 4-H. (The Ironton Tribune | Heath Harrison)

In August 2022, the office hired Zoie Clay as program assistant and she provides school and afterschool programming in four of the county’s districts.

Examples of the school-based programming include 4-H Health Rocks, educating students on better health and living, as well as Real Money, Real World, a financial literacy program. 

Fraley said another big aspects of 4-H is the camp, which takes place over three days in June at Canter’s Cave in Jackson. Lawrence County is one of 10 counties to take part in that

“We facilitate summer camps and come up with the program, with help from other educators,” Fraley said.

She said the camps also serve as a leadership opportunity for the teenage members of 4-H, with them serving as counselors.

“We have a lot of camp counselors who help with the supervision of our kids,” Fraley said. “They step in to make sure younger kids get where need to go. And it’s a good time to be outdoors. We do hiking, swimming and fishing. We don’t allow cell phones and it’s an opportunity to disconnect.”

Founded in 1902 and having a motto of “To make the best better,” 4-H clubs are found in every state in the U.S., as well as organizes internationally. 

Dawson Forbush, of Chesapeake, right, a Lawrence County 4-H teen leader, helps to load carts at the Chesapeake Community Center to be taken out to recipients as part of Chesapeake Community Mission Outreach’s annual Christmas giveaway in December 2022 for those in need. (The Ironton Tribune | Heath Harrison)

Its name comes from the four “Hs” of head, heart, hands and health, which are listed in the pledge members recite. 

“And there’s our Big M — Belonging, independence, generosity and mastery,” Fraley said. 

The 4-H extension office is through The Ohio State University. 

Fraley, along with office assistant Paige Matney, is employed through OSU. 

She said, as a land grant institution, OSU has an office in all 88 of the state’s counties. 

“4-H falls under that umbrella,” she said. “And the county commissioners help support those offices. Without the support of the county commissioners, we wouldn’t have the opportunities we have here.” 

Also working in the office are Debbie Carpenter, who teaches nutrition, and Rosa Storey, who was hired through SNAP-Ed. Terry Abner, from the Area Agency on Aging District 7, partners with and works through the office as well. 

Fraley said another part of her job is community service and she is on the Lawrence County Farm Bureau and a part of other organizations 

She also works with the 4-H teen leaders on service projects and ways to give back to the community. In December, these leaders could be found at the Chesapeake Community Center, working with Community Mission Outreach in their annual food and toy distribution to the needy. 

“I’m also responsible for outreach,” Fraley said. “And research, development of curriculum and presenting at different conferences. Taking what we do and develop at the county and state level and sharing it nationwide.” 

Siblings Gracie and Gunner Daniels show their animals. Gunner was named junior showman, while Gracie was reserve champion in meat production at the 2022 Lawrence County Fair. (The Ironton Tribune | Heath Harrison)

Kelly Greco-Smit, field representative for Ohio Treasurer Robert Sprague presents Rachael Fraley of the Lawrence County OSU Extension Office with the Compass Award. (Submitted photo)

Fraley said she has seen many people in public service and other sectors, such as teachers, administrators and attorneys, who have grown up and gone through the 4-H program and benefitted from it. 

“I would say one of the biggest benefits is the life skills,” she said. “Learning responsibility and a hands-on learning experience. It’s also, a lot of times, the friendships made from being in 4-H. People from all over the county come together and build lifelong friendships. And there’s also the confidence they have to take on leadership.” 

Fraley said there are many members who continue helping the program into adulthood. 

“It is very common for quite a few of our seniors, when they age out, to come to me, looking for how to serve and be a part of it,” she said. 

She said this is illustrative of their ultimate goal. 

“We want them to master life skills,” Fraley said. “We want them to be active citizens in their communities, and we hope we are giving them skills to be able to walk into those roles.” 

— RELATED: PROFILE 2023 — Trenton Williams: Finding a place with 4-H