A Firm Foundation

Head, heart, hands and health: these four attributes can make or break the foundation you build for yourself. For those who participated in 4-H, these four elements helped guide them into the successful citizens of society they are today.

For past 4-H members, Norma Ritz Johnson, a Texas Tech University alumna, and Emily Fouts, a current Texas Tech University agricultural communications student, 4-H served as the foundation of their success and the compass of their future.

From Rural Roots to City Success

A native to the small rural community of Meadow, Texas, located just 20 minutes southwest of Lubbock, Johnson began her 4-H journey at 9-years-old. Little did she know the impact it would have, the doors that would open, and the relationships she would have the opportunity to build as a result of her participation in 4-H.

“Back then growing up in a rural community, being in 4-H was just expected,” Johnson said. “I just fell into it. It was one of the things you did because spaces needed to be filled and because I was taught that if you were going to do something, it was worth doing well. I decided I was not just going to be in 4-H, but I was going to really get involved.”

Throughout her middle school, junior high and high school involvement with the organization, Johnson had the opportunity to serve on the Texas 4-H State Council, attend multiple 4-H round-ups, and summer leadership camps. These opportunities allowed her to build friendships and develop a passion for speaking, writing and communicating. She was also able to gain a deeper understanding of the agricultural industry.

“I found out that it was not just livestock showing or cooking or sewing, even though I did all of those things,” Johnson said. “It is speaking and skeet shooting and interpersonal skills and all of these other great things. It was teaching life skills and goal setting.”

As Johnson prepared to begin her college career, her efforts and success in 4-H helped her earn the San Antonio Livestock Exposition scholarship.

“That opportunity made the difference for me to go to Texas Tech University right away versus having to do something differently,” she said.

As Johnson was preparing to embark on her college journey, she heard about the agricultural communications program at Texas Tech. She said as soon as she heard about a degree plan that mixed her two passions, agriculture and communicating with others, there was no turning back. She knew exactly what she wanted to do.

As soon as she arrived on the Texas Tech campus, she reconnected with some of the friends she had made through 4-H and joined the Collegiate 4-H student organization. From there, she was able to get involved in a few other agricultural leadership organizations within the department including, Collegiate FFA and Agricultural Communicators of Tomorrow. Through her involvement in student organizations, Johnson got connected with the Texas AgriLife Extension Center and worked several months as a communications specialist intern. As one thing led to another, her 4-H interpersonal skills kicked in and aided her in pursuing self-evolving opportunities one after another.

Johnson has worn many hats within the agricultural communications field. She served as the West Texas chief of marketing under former Commissioner of Agriculture, Rick Perry, in the mid 90s, advocated for sorghum producers in Washington D.C. as the communications director for National Sorghum Producers, and eventually carried her experiences over into the Lubbock Chamber of Commerce where she currently serves as the executive vice president.

Finding a firm foundation in 4-H, developing a passion for agricultural communications, and later falling in love with advocating for farmers and the Lubbock community regarding governmental policies and relations, Johnson credits 4-H for the life experiences she has had.

“It was teaching life skills and goal setting.”

“Without 4-H, I am not sure I would have had the opportunity to become interested in agriculture and policies to the extreme that I did,” she said. “I consider 4-H to be a life-changing experience. Years later I am forever grateful for the time I spent in that organization.”

Finding a New Perspective

‘Forever grateful’ and ‘life-changing’ seem to be common words used by current and past members of the 4-H community. Emily Fouts, an agricultural communications senior preparing to embark on a journey in law school, claims 4-H as the main factor that set her dream of being a policy writer into motion.

While both of her parents serve as attorneys in Haskell County, Emily spent her childhood dreaming of going to medical school and becoming a doctor. However, at the age of 13 in the middle of a committee hearing room in the Texas capitol, Fouts realized she was destined for a whole separate journey. She had attended the bi-annual Texas 4-H Congress, and at the time, she only had intentions of building her record books and socializing.

“I had no idea what the event was for or what it was about,” Fouts said. “I was shocked when I found out we were running a mock legislative session.”

She said she still remembers sitting at the desk in the Senate chamber of the capitol and thinking about how cool the entire process was and how humbled she was that she was able to take part in that sort of experience.

She was completely immersed in the legislative process from start to finish. From filing to committee hearings, floor debates, votes, and the entire process.

“4-H completely changed the entire course of my life,” Fouts said. “Before I went to Texas 4-H Congress, I thought I wanted to be a doctor. After congress, I knew I wanted to work in public policy.”

Developing a “head for clearer thinking, a heart for greater loyalty, hands to larger service and health to better living” can make a positive impact on the lives of many in so many ways. 4-H Members are continuously researching and learning about some of the nation’s top issues ranging from global food security, climate change, and sustainable energy to childhood obesity and food safety. From agriculture and animal sciences to rocketry, robotics, environmental protection and computer sciences, 4-H forms firm foundations regardless of the industry.