Thirty-two years and going strong as a Texas 4-H volunteer, Linda Brinlee may have been trained as an electrical engineer, but her heart belonged to the 4-H program once she found it.
Brinlee grew up in the small cow town of Plano. She and her husband of 42 years both worked as electrical engineers while they raised their three children. But when they moved to Bonham, Brinlee left the engineering industry and earned her teaching certificate while her family settled into 4-H life.
“I became a 4-H club manager and project leader for a long list of reasons,” said Brinlee. “I truly believe in the program and am not shy in sharing my 4-H experience with others.”
Texas 4-H is the youth outreach and development component of the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, with 4-H clubs in local communities across the state. To learn more about Brinlee’s experience volunteering with the program, we sat down to ask about her involvement over the years.
Q: What drew you to volunteer with Texas 4-H?
A: My first introduction to the 4-H program was in sixth grade, not as a member of 4-H but as a 4-H wannabe. In school, I read a short story about the 4-H Corn Clubs and Tomato Clubs of Jack County. After that, I was hooked and desperately wanted to be a 4-H member.
After we moved, I looked forward to my kids joining 4-H. When my oldest started kindergarten, I was calling around to find out how to join.
We attended the first club meeting when he reached third grade, ready to get started. Someone informed the parents that they could also sign up to volunteer. That was it; 32 years ago, I became a 4-H volunteer and am still going strong, long after my kids graduated from college. As the kids left home, I started volunteering more with AgriLife Extension and became a Texas Master Naturalist, Fannin County Master Gardener and a Texas Master Wellness volunteer.
Our experience with Texas 4-H served my kids well. After attending Texas A&M University on 4-H scholarships, one is a mixed-practice veterinarian, one is a wildlife and fisheries biologist specializing in conservation, and one is a registered dietician specializing in bariatrics and diabetes. I never dreamed they would be doing the things they do today. Texas 4-H made it possible.
Q: What do you do as a volunteer with Texas 4-H?
A: As a 4-H volunteer, I have various opportunities and interests through the program. My kids got me into raising sheep, processing the fiber and converting it into my love of textile arts.
I also credit my current job of 17 years as a seasonal employee for Bonham State Park to my 4-H volunteer work. With their wildlife, conservation and MarshMALLOW projects, my kids were doing more and more volunteer work at the state park in cooperation with the park superintendent. One day he asked me to apply for the seasonal position.
Now I plan and conduct the interpretive programs at the park, collect fees and work in the office.
Q: Why are you passionate about Texas 4-H?
A: My three kids do what they do today because of Texas 4-H. It was 4-H that introduced them to a multitude of career paths and gave them a taste of what different careers were like. It also taught them important life skills, such as leadership, public speaking, community service, record keeping, resume writing and communication.
Through volunteering, I could follow along, learn and grow in my skills and knowledge. I love 4-H because it offers so many different challenges. It is not only about contests, livestock shows or collecting badges and ribbons. It is about the 4-H member themselves and helping them grow — guiding and teaching them the life skills to be successful, giving them the confidence to try new things, providing opportunities to help others, giving them a voice to share ideas and lead when needed.
If it wasn’t for the support of the AgriLife Extension agents through the years, I might have quit when the kids all graduated. Instead, I was encouraged to judge district contests and State 4-H Roundup and attend leader training at all levels.
Exposure to what others were doing across the state kept me excited and interested in the program. The working relationship between adult leaders, youth and AgriLife Extension is critical to retaining volunteers and 4-H members.