By RYAN PFEIL
Abigail and Emily Kimmel aren’t old enough to drive. But the Eagle Point sisters, 11 and 14 respectively, have already honed a variety of skills that will serve them throughout life.
They’re strong public speakers, can sew, take care of farm animals and cook, among other things. They can even break open a freshly baked muffin and inspect its consistency to tell if was left in the oven too long.
They’ve acquired those skills and others over the past few years as participants in numerous Jackson County 4-H programs. Countywide, about 4,000 youths are involved in 4-H in some capacity.
“I wanted my kids to have this opportunity,” said mother Celena Kimmel, a 4-H alum herself. “Being able to do the basic skills.”
But 4-H officials say similar opportunities for up-and-coming students could soon be a thing of the past, following proposed cuts by the Jackson County Budget Committee to the county’s 2013-14 budget.
The committee and Board of Commissioners deliberated over cuts last week to close a $7 million budget gap in the general fund. A proposed $204,204 slash to the Jackson County OSU Extension Service could dam up additional state and federal revenue streams, program officials say, meaning the whole facility would close. If it did, programs such as 4-H would go with it.
“Truly, we are funded by a variety of sources,” said Anne Manlove, Jackson County’s 4-H director. “But the stable funding (from the county) … gives us the ability to operate.”
The funds pay for educational materials, training and travel expenses and facility operations. Students also pay membership fees, which cover costs for their insurance and newsletters they receive.
According to the OSU Extension Service website, 4-H is the largest extracurricular program in the United States, boasting more than 6 million members nationwide. Group members participate in clubs, camps and competitions covering a variety of activities.
Manlove has been director of Jackson County 4-H since 1982. She said the program has faced cuts before, but nothing at the level being proposed.
“Never in 30 years have I seen a zero (budget), not even a proposed zero,” Manlove said.
Board of Commission Chairman Don Skundrick said the cut from the budget committee came as a shock, as it had not been discussed in previous public meetings.
“That was done at the 11th hour of the 11th hour,” Skundrick said.
Skundrick has offered a proposal that would make that cut and others moot. He has suggested a housing surcharge in which a monthly fee of anywhere from $2 to $10 would be levied against each living unit in the county. The funds would go to operate the Jackson County Jail, freeing up some general fund money that could go to other agencies. County officials are looking into how and if they could enact the surcharge.
“The mechanics are still being worked out, how one would collect it, et cetera,” Skundrick said.
Commissioners John Rachor and Doug Breidenthal have both said they would support it only if a majority of county voters did so first.
For now, the potential closure is on the minds of numerous 4-H youths and their families.
“I was really surprised,” Abigail Kimmel said of the Budget Committee’s decision. “It’s so important to future generations.”
Emily Kimmel said she’s worried her younger brother Nate, 7, won’t get to participate in the program when he’s old enough.
“We’re talking about how many people we could get to email (the Board of Commissioners),” Emily said. “I really, really want it to stay.”
Diana Gifford, the mother of two 4-H participants — 15-year-old Ryan and 11-year-old Tyler — says the program teaches responsibility, time management, and confidence, no matter what activities participants are involved in. Her boys are involved in beef and lamb programs, raising animals at their home outside Eagle Point. They keep busy feeding, grooming, washing and marketing the two steers they hope to sell at the upcoming Jackson County Fair.
“It definitely teaches them the responsibility piece,” said Gifford, a teacher in the Medford School District.
Ryan Gifford said the time he’s devoted to 4-H has shaped his identity.
“It really made me who I am today,” Ryan said. “I feel it makes you a better person.”
Diana said Ryan has saved all the money from past cattle sales for college.
Manlove said about 95 percent of 4-H participants in the cattle and sheep programs save at least a portion of their checks in a school fund, based on a survey she conducted.
“To an extent, the auction program is one of the largest scholarship programs we have in the county,” she said.
Reach reporter Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This story originally appeared in Medford Mail Tribune.