EVen as she was busy cleaning it out, the office of Evelyn “Ev” Simmons was crammed top to bottom with green and white colors, clover-shaped mementos and other memorabilia documenting her 20 years as the leader of the 4-H program in Lycoming County.
“People come in here and say, ‘Oh, you must be Irish,’ ” Simmons said with a laugh.
She spent two decades in the 4-H program, working at first on the front lines as a facilitator and an organizer of community events. Over the years, “I took over more things and became more independent,” she said.
When she turned in her keys on March 28 and retired, Simmons bore the title of 4-H youth development educator, and it’s easy to see she loves the young charges she’s met.
One of the fondest aspects of her job was working with the County Council, a group of teens who meet monthly to discuss 4-H and community issues. They plan activities – recreational ones such as bowling and events that benefit others, such as making valentine cards for seniors in nursing homes.
“Teens get a bad rap,” Simmons said. “The council is my favorite group to work with … they help keep me young.
“They’re the kids you love to have growing up,” she added. “They choose to spend their free time doing community service.”
Simmons also worked with the 4-H Advisory Committee, a group of leaders from every club in the county who meet five times a year to discuss their clubs’ needs, training issues and complaints. Their discussions ultimately result in solutions and changes that make the 4-H program easier for all involved.
She was drawn to the 4-H program as a career because of her love for elementary education. At the start, “my kids were in the (4-H) Community Club in Clinton County,” Simmons said.
Her sons created projects focusing on insects, geology and gardening. One of her boys now has a career in landscaping.
“4-H helped him explore careers. It gave him a head start, as it does many kids,” she said.
Lycoming County now has 17 4-H clubs. Several of them are community clubs, in which children explore a variety of topics, but others are specialty groups that focus on one subject.
“4-H has projects that would appeal to all children,” she said. “There are more than 150 projects; there’s something for everyone.”
About 75 active leaders guide the members through the projects. The majority of them are parents or grandparents, “people whose children were in it,” Simmons said.
Leaders must pass a screening process that includes an application, reference check and
a face-to-face interview. They must secure clearances for working with children every year and they complete a training course on how to report child abuse.
“There’s at least two leaders with all of the children all of the time,” Simmons said.
In each club, an organization leader heads up the group, while project leaders help the children work through the projects. The state provides books for most groups that offer lists of projects.
“Livestock clubs such as those for dairy cows and horses are very popular,” Simmons said, but clubs also exist for people interested in sewing, cooking, mechanical science, woodworking, small engines, citizenship, arts and crafts, and robotics.
Over the years, technology has changed the way the county’s 4-H program communicates with its members and leaders. Email and social networking is used more than mailing newsletters via the postal service.
However, what hasn’t changed is the fact that 4-H is very family oriented. Simmons hopes that, as the program continues to grow with the new director, more leader candidates will emerge.
“I wish we had more right here in Williamsport, and there aren’t too many in the northern part of the county,” she said. With more leaders willing and able to “share their expertise, the kids will come out of the woodwork.”
Summer is a busy season in the 4-H world, and Simmons may well find a great deal of free time on her hands this year. She plans to travel, sew and plant a garden, take more time to read and volunteer, “maybe with 4-H or my church,” she said.
“I plan on maintaining a lot of the relationships that I made with my job,” Simmons added. “I’m also glad to offer what I know to help smooth the transition.”