Every August, the Washington County Agricultural Fair marks the unofficial end of summer for a community that is poised to welcome cooler weather, and bright yellow school buses in just a few short weeks. Before that though, the fairgrounds in Washington County come alive with a colorful carnival of rides, music, games, and food. And at the top of the hill are pens full of prize livestock—market hogs, steers, lambs, goats, and rabbits—ready to vie for top honors and a top price as the Fair comes to an end with one of the region’s best-known Junior Livestock Auctions.
The animal pens adjacent to the Harry Hank Show Arena are where long-time 4-H Youth Development Educator Pam Paletta can be found in the days leading up the Auction. But this year’s Fair is different for Pam. After more than three decades of educating local students about agriculture, leadership, responsibility, and entering adulthood—Pam will retire from 4-H in October.
In the middle of a livestock pen was not where she saw herself 33 years ago when she first came on board at 4-H.
“I graduated from college with a Home Economics degree, and I started doing some substitute teaching. After a few years, one of my former college advisors suggested that I apply for a job with Penn State Extension.”
Penn State is one of more than 100 public universities across the country that is part of a Cooperative Extension. Each offers education and services focused on sectors such as: agriculture, natural resources, animal systems, energy, entrepreneurship, and community development. The extension offices also oversee 4-H programs.
Across the country, 4-H is America’s largest youth development organization, with a stated goal of developing “citizenship, leadership, responsibility and life skills of youth through experiential learning programs and a positive youth development approach.” Among the areas 4-H focuses on are: health, science, citizenship and agriculture.
Initially, Pam’s work with Penn State Extension meshed with her degree in Home Economics. “I taught sewing classes to both kids and adults. I also taught microwave cooking classes!”
After a few years though, one of the 4-H youth educators left, and Pam was asked to take over. “My reaction was, I don’t know anything about 4-H, I was never in 4-H, I think you have the wrong person. But my boss said actually, you’re the exact right person. He knew that I liked teaching and that I liked kids. So, I said OK.”
It was all new to Pam. “I had never even been on a farm!” She dove right in though, learning everything she could about livestock, and sharing that knowledge with students who were also learning how to become leaders.
Sue Toth is a 4-H volunteer from Carroll Township. She was in 4-H as a child, and her two boys—Michael and Jeff—now in their twenties, were also members of 4-H in Washington County. Sue is the current Chairman of the Livestock Committee, and she has seen firsthand the impact that Pam has had on the community, and the kids. “Pam is so pleasant, and she is always helping somebody. The kids feel comfortable with her, and she is so kindhearted and generous with them. She will really be missed.”
Sue is a huge proponent of the 4-H program in Washington County. “It teaches the kids so much. My boys learned to deal with triumph, with heartache, they learned how to be responsible, how to operate on a budget. It helped them become better people, they learned how to be tolerant of other people and other people’s feelings, they learned how to help people – and that’s what both of my kids do now, one is a firefighter, and one is going to school to become a police officer.”
She also appreciates the support the program has received from corporate partners like Marcellus Shale driller Range Resources. “Range has been wonderful, I can’t say it enough. The company has done so much for us, and so much for the kids.”
Over the past 12 years, Range and its service company partners have donated over $1 million in support of agricultural education opportunities for students in Washington County. Some of the funds contributed by Range have gone into an endowment that ensures that 4-H Youth Development and Education will continue well into the future.
“Pam has touched thousands of lives,” says Sue. “She has done so much to help students grow, and prosper, and become better people. She’s given of herself during daytime activities, evening, winter and summer bus trips, she gives all of herself to her job, and to our kids—who have become her kids.”
Pam’s boss is sad to see her go. “I keep tearing up thinking about it!” says Suzanne Boarts, who is also a 4-H Educator. “I’ve worked with Pam for 20 years, and there is not a more dedicated, passionate person in our organization. She has contributed so much to our program.”
And while Pam is looking forward to what’s ahead, she too will miss the close friends and the families she’s come to know and love over her years with 4-H. “More than anything, I will miss the kids. Being with the kids. The young people in 4-H are really special. They work so hard, and they accomplish so much. And it’s been wonderful to be with them.”
This article is written and sponsored by Range Resources.