councelors at Beker Cuelho's 4-H summer camp

4-H: Six Montana Stories

First Aired Monday, July 23, 2012

Follow six young Montanans as they learn that 4-H is about having fun--but being responsible about it. It's about knowing where you're headed but never forgetting where you've been.

4-H Six Montana Stories

When a person turns 100 years old, somebody needs to throw a party. That's exactly what Montana PBS is doing this summer. And the guest of honor will be Montana 4-H. During the past 100 years, much about 4-H has changed. Thankfully, most hasn't. It's still the state's largest out-of-school program. One out of six school-age youth are members. And it's still the best program to learn about livestock, cooking and sewing while making new friends at the same time.

But over the years, new projects have been added. Some of the more popular are photography, robotics and film making. In fact, 4-H offers more than 200 different projects and learning experiences for young people.

"I knew absolutely nothing about 4-H when I took this project on," said Gus Chambers, writer, producer and director of 4-H: Six Montana Stories. "I thought it was just sows, cows and plows. A quaint slice of Americana that was rapidly disappearing from the cultural landscape. Like most things, I was completely wrong."

Chambers, along with the staff of the Montana 4-H Center for Youth Development in Bozeman selected six young people to profile. Participants were selected to represent as many diverse groups as possible. They had different interests, projects, goals, backgrounds and geographies. The only common denominator was the fact that each participant was fairly typical of 4-H. "We weren't looking for over-achievers," said Chambers. "We wanted average kids that would grow and change over the course of their 4-H year."

Chambers and his camera followed each participant for an entire year capturing their ups and downs, their triumphs and losses and their daily routines. 

Garret Jolma, Winnett, MT

Garret Jolma shows his brother, Braden, a Walking Stick, an insect that is part of his 4-H collection

Garret Jolma was just 13 years old when he was accepted as a participant. Garret lives in Winnett, Montana. His main 4-H projects include Wind Energy, Gardening and Entomology. In fact, the whole town rallies to help Garret with his bug collection. When a Winnett resident spots an unfamiliar insect, they'll call Garret and tell him. Within minutes, Garret will arrive on his bicycle to capture and identify the unknown bug. His best resource is the water filtration system at the community pool. Lifeguards there allow Garret to check the traps in his ongoing search for a giant water beetle.

Garret's wind energy project is designed to find the best spot in town to erect a wind generator. Garret travels, via his bicycle, across town taking various wind speed readings in pursuit of the ideal turbine location.

"Garret grew and matured considerably during the course of the year," said Chambers. "He'll never be that little kid I met a year ago. This summer he's taking a driver's education class."

Mitch Ward, Denton, MT

Mitch Ward shows off two of his favorite pigs

In Denton, viewers will follow Mitch Ward. Mitch is a fourth-generation Montana 4-H'er. His great- grandfather was an extension agent in Teton County and started the first 4-H club there.

Mitch was in his sophomore year in high school when the camera followed him. He's an extremely busy young man and is quick to admit that 4-H isn't always foremost on his mind. He's in a number of other organizations, including FFA, and plays just about every sport in high school.

Mitch has a younger sister named Morgan. This was her first year in 4-H and big brother Mitch was her mentor. Will Morgan make the same mistakes with her 4-H projects that Mitch made? Viewers will have to tune in to see.

Jordan Stoltz, Valier, MT

Jordan Stoltz carries the 4-H flag in a Valier, MT Parade

In Valier, the camera followed Jordan Stoltz. Even though Jordan is only 12 years old, she has already applied for and received a loan to start her own hog breeding business. The winter of 2011 was a long, harsh one in Valier and all of Jordan's sows had difficulty farrowing. Most of the piglets were either stillborn or they froze to death soon after birth. It's tough when you're only 12 years old, your business is losing money and payment on your loan is due. Thanks to 4-H, Jordan had support, friends and a little bit of providence in places she didn't know.

Riley Reed, Harlowton, MT

Riley and Eric Reed working with their horses

4-H is new to Wheatland County. It's been over 70 years since the area had an extension agent. That meant that any 4-H activity was purely on a volunteer basis. Thankfully, the county now has a full time extension agent. The documentary follows the agent's 13-year-old daughter, Riley Reed. Riley's 4-H projects include Horse, Cooking, Junior Leadership and Rabbit. "You'd think having a mom as an extension agent would be full of perks," said producer Chambers. "Actually, it works against Riley. Her mom is so busy helping other 4-H kids, there's very little time for Riley. Plus neither one wants to give the slightest impression of favoritism." Riley seems used to the situation. As a result, she's independent, focused, and completely capable of figuring things out for herself. "Dollars to donuts, she grows up to become an extension agent herself," quipped Chambers. "And she'll make a great one," he added.

Katie McCleary, Hardin, MT

Katie McCleary and her year of 4-H and School Awards

In Hardin, the camera followed high school freshman Katie McCleary. It was a year of transition for Katie. Prior to her freshman year, Katie attended Pretty Eagle School, a Catholic academy for Crow and Northern Cheyenne children. Katie excelled at Pretty Eagle and was "Student of the Year" two years in a row. At Hardin High School, a much larger and busier school, it was easy for Katie to get lost in the numbers. But 4-H helped make the transition easier. Katie's 4-H friends showed her around, introduced her to the school's activities and pushed her in the right directions. "It wouldn't surprise me if she became Hardin High's Student of the Year sometime soon," said Chambers. "There's no stopping Katie."

Beker Cuelho, Manhattan, MT

Beker Cuelho takes his little sister for a hike

Beker Cuelho lives in Manhattan, Montana. He's the oldest in a large family that has eight more 4-H members. Beker fields many questions about 4-H from his brothers and sisters. He's smart and patient and somehow he manages to answer them all. "One of the most important features of 4-H is "leadership". You hear about leadership all the time," said Chambers, "and Beker is a born leader. He's spent the last 16 years gently guiding his brothers and sisters. That's valuable on-the-job-training." Beker's 4-H projects include photography, film making and robotics. He teaches robotics classes several times each month to younger 4-H members. When he's not helping others build their robotic dreams, Beker writes and performs his own music with his sister Blu. Blu's 4-H project is teaching obedience to her dog, Scout. Together, Beker and Blu were senior counselors at a 4-H summer camp.

Title card for 4-H Six Montana Stories

"These are some pretty remarkable young people," admitted producer Chambers. "And just think - these were the average ones." "I'm hoping that PBS viewers unfamiliar with 4-H will have their horizons broadened. Mine certainly were. And on the flip side, I'm hoping that viewers who are 4-H alums will catch a glimpse of themselves in at least one of the six stories.

MontanaPBS

4-H: Six Montana Stories

Montana 4-H is the youth development program of Montana State University Extension and is the largest, out-of-school youth development program in the state, reaching about 25,000 youth in all counties each year. In 4-H, if you can dream it, you can do it! 4-H offers more than 100 different projects and learning experiences that actively engage while having fun. 4-H, projects rely on trained adult volunteers who work with youth as a partner and resource for learning. There are opportunities, from learning how to cook or sew to raising an animal, camping, and everything in between. 4-H offers youth a wide range of choices and opportunities. Find out how Montana 4-H is "making the best better" by exploring our web site.

Visit Montana 4-H Website