Jack's Insights October 2018

Dr. Jack Whittier
By Jack Whittier, Director
UNL Panhandle Extension District and Panhandle Research and Extension Center

As I was considering a topic for my monthly “Jack’s Insights” column I read over some of the past columns.  I normally would not repeat a column, but as I re-read what I had written in October 2014, I felt retelling a story in my article four years later would be fun, particularly since the topic reflects my sentiments as much today just as it is in 2014.  My experience with the family dynamic I describe below is still fresh in my mind, as is my appreciation for what 4-H and the University of Nebraska do for youth and family development.  I hope you will enjoy this repeat.

“My insights this month begins with an observation I had this week [October 2014]: ‘The family is a key part of what we do at the University of Nebraska.’  Let me describe a couple of events that occurred this week that brought me to this realization.  One recent afternoon I found myself at the back of a cattle-working facility, pushing cows up an alley and watching three generations of a family unit up ahead.  They were not my family, but I was struck by what was occurring that extended well beyond simply working a bunch of cattle in the fall. 

“Here’s what I saw:

“Grandma was running the clipboard and taking care of the record keeping. Grandpa was properly giving injections in each cow’s neck while tutoring 6-year-old grandson and 4-year-old granddaughter how to do this correctly.  Grandpa was also teaching grandson and granddaughter how to quietly move the cows up the alley into the chute, where the cows were restrained to receive their preventative treatments before winter.  Dad was running the head catch, checking ID tags and shouting out numbers to Grandma.  Mom was administering a pour-on to eliminate parasites in and on each cow, plus Mom was overseeing the entire operation to assure that cows, kids and her parents were safe and doing their jobs correctly. 

“It was well into late afternoon when the cows were finished and the calves were beginning to enter the alley in much the same way the cows had been processed earlier.  Again, I was pushing the calves into the alley from a vantage point so as to witness the impact of this family working together to accomplish a task that played a big part of the family’s livelihood.

“But, perhaps more importantly, I was watching the training, cooperation and love that was taking place in this family that evening.  To add to the impact of what I was observing, a large, bright, harvest full moon began to rise in the east.  This struck me as a signal that all was well in that corner of the world that evening.

“This experience confirmed to me how important family units are, and added to other recent experiences in the Panhandle Extension District that further illustrated the importance of family to the University of Nebraska and how its programs are designed to assist families. 

“Let me mention a couple of key programs administered by the University of Nebraska as a whole, and which we have local specialists and educators involved in efforts to help maintain families’ central role in society.

“In my role as District Director, I had the opportunity recently to sit in County Extension Board meetings across the Panhandle and Sandhills and witness the passion of parents and community members for 4-H.  4-H has been, and continues to be, a foundational component of the University of Nebraska.  During my lifetime I have seen changes in society and I have also seen an evolution by 4-H to anticipate and meet the changing needs of youth and families.  The fundamental principles in the 4-H pledge of head, heart, hands and health are as integral today as they were when the first youth 4-H club was formed in 1902.

“As I look back over the many years since I was a 4-H member myself, I appreciate the mentoring I received from 4-H leaders and the positive involvement in my life from my parents and the parents of fellow 4-Hers.  I also recall the communication skills I developed by doing 4-H demonstrations, the satisfaction from the work involved to prepare animals for show, and the unity that came to our family as I worked alongside my siblings and parents on our 4-H projects.  It was a family affair.

“Today Nebraska 4-H focuses on six key areas called “Signature Outcomes”: 4-H Science, Animal Science, Agricultural Literacy, Career Development/College Readiness, Citizenship and Leadership, and Healthy Living.  Each area recognizes the important role that 4-H plays in youth development and in families.

“In addition to 4-H, there are other programs designed to support families. One example is the UNL Early Childhood Development program which, among other things, provides support to child care professionals “….to enhance the capacity of our communities to support the healthy growth, development and success of young children.”  Another example is the Food, Nutrition and Health program led by Nebraska Extension that supports family nutrition, fitness and healthy eating habits.

“There are many other programs and resources available through UNL Extension to support families, parents and youth.  I invite you to contact us here at the Panhandle Research and Extension Center or within your local county extension office.  I believe you will be surprised at the depth and breadth of what is available to strengthen families.

“I conclude by reflecting again on watching three generations of family members work their cattle on a beautiful fall evening.  This experience made me thankful for families in general, and in particular for my own family and for the privileges I have had during my career to work in organizations like the University of Nebraska that recognize the importance of families.”