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story.lead_photo.caption Local 4-H clubs decorate the Callaway Bank window. Photo by Olivia Garrett / Fulton Sun.

It's been five years since North Callaway Middle School eighth grader Sophie Geppert first joined 4-H.

In that time, the 13-year-old has done a little bit of everything — including showing dairy cows, arts and crafts, food, gardening, cake decorating and public speaking.

Anyone age 8-18 can join 4-H. Geppert was young when she joined, inspired by the many members of her family who participated in 4-H before her, such as her parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles.

"I just remember I really loved to show at our county fair," Geppert said, of her early years of participation.

At the Missouri State Fair, she enjoyed seeing the projects 4-H participants had made.

"I saw I could do all of these cool things and maybe have something at the state fair," Geppert said.

Normally, the Callaway County clubs get together for an annual kick-off event for families interested in participating. Due to the pandemic, this year's event was cancelled. But local 4-H-ers are still celebrating National 4-H Week.

Gov. Mike Parson proclaimed Oct. 4-10 National 4-H Week in Missouri, recognizing the youth development and empowerment organization and marking the first week prospective and returning members can sign up.

Over the course of the week, local club participants will wear green clothes and post on Facebook. Window displays are also popping up across the county. In Fulton, the Callaway Bank window has been outfitted to show off some of the projects completed by local children.

Geppert recommends others join 4-H — especially young children.

"When I was 8, I asked my mom why I had to go to those project meetings," Geppert said.

Now, she understands.

"It's important to attend meetings young because it becomes a habit and you learn what to say," Geppert said. "I think you could join as an older teenager, but I know if you start younger, it becomes something normal that you do in your everyday life."

4-H has become a part of Geppert's daily life and it's changed her, she said.

"4-H has taught me lots of different skills that I use everyday," Geppert said.

Participating in public speaking has been particularly influential.

"I've gotten better with my grammar and it makes me more comfortable talking in front of people," she said. "I'm glad and willing to do it because I took public speaking and it has prepared me to speak to people."

This year, Geppert made a T-shirt rug. The pandemic has been marked by both Zoom and in-person meetings. In a normal year, Geppert would have worked on her T-shirt rug project alongside 15 to 20 of her peers. This year, gatherings were kept small and socially distant.

In additions to Geppert's club in Hatton, Callaway County is home to four other 4-H clubs — Rising Sun, Williamsburg, Mokane and New Bloomfield — as well as a teen group ages 13-18 can participate in.

To join a local club, contact the Callaway County MU Extension Center at 573-642-0755. More information is available at extension.missouri.edu/counties/callaway/4-h/.

Next week, from Oct. 7-18, Tractor Supply Co. will be selling paper clovers to raise money for 4-H clubs and participants. Since 2010, the fundraiser has raised $14 million nationally.

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