SWANTON - For many advisers in the Fulton County 4-H program, the fun of helping youths with their projects and the valuable lessons the club teaches keep them involved for decades.
"It's something hands-on that you can't get out of a classroom," said Polly Gombash, an adviser with the Fulton County Hoofbeats for 23 years who was recognized as the county's outstanding 4-H alum for 2004.
Mrs. Gombash, who got her first pony at age 6, primarily works with horses. Children in the club also show calves and steers.
As an adviser, she helps with work sessions several times a month and is available when youths call for help with sick horses. She's taught them how to take temperatures, waited for vets, and has been there when horses had to be put down.
She goes to horse shows every weekend from mid-May to early August and less frequently after that.
She said caring for an animal teaches the children responsibility.
"That is your project, and you see it to the end, whether you take it to the fair or something happens to it," Mrs. Gombash said.
Last year about 40 children had animal projects that died, she said.
For P.J. Savage of the Delta area, becoming an adviser "just seemed natural" after being an 11-year member and later marrying an adviser.
Mrs. Savage has been an adviser in the Pike X-L club for 30 years, her husband Jim for 38, and their son Dennis for five.
"It kind of becomes a family thing," Mrs. Savage said.
The club activities, too, can involve the whole family in a way that dance classes or basketball teams might not, she said.
Those other activities cut into the time children have for 4-H, and many aren't as involved as they used to be.
"They're pulled so many ways," Mrs. Savage said.
No one in the county has seen more changes in the club than Arlene Stoup of Ai, an adviser for 50 years with the Happy Hustlers/Fulton Variety club who was given the Friend of 4-H award for 2004.
She said she takes on a variety of projects, usually letting other advisers choose what they're interested in first.
Recently she worked with a boy who had a market hog, which she didn't know much about.
"I learned a lot from it," Mrs. Stroup said.
Aside of the growing challenge of scheduling around other activities, the biggest change in the past 50 years is the explosion in the kinds of projects kids can do.
When she first became an adviser, the girls did sewing or cooking projects and the boys did gardening or raised animals.
Whatever the project, the kids learn how to work together and how to do something from the beginning, she said.
Mrs. Stoup said she enjoys being with the kids, and doesn't think she'll stop advising just yet.
"4-H has always been my life," she said.