Ignite Your Curiosity as a Youth Volunteer
Becoming a Youth Volunteer at Conner Prairie
When I was 9 years old, my mother called me over to her computer one day to show me some information she’d found online regarding a youth volunteering program at Conner Prairie. I was in that stage of life that nearly every child goes through, where the idea of having a pony or a cow in the backyard seems appealing and even plausible. The program at Conner Prairie seemed promising, with images of costume-clad pre-teens, children giving sewing and cooking demonstrations, and teenagers holding sheep on halters while talking to school groups. It was truly that last picture that caught my eye.;. I eagerly submitted my application and hoped for the best. Shortly after began the first of my seven seasons at Conner Prairie.
The day came for me to pick where I’d like to volunteer, and I carefully penned my name onto the signup sheet for Animal Encounters. The new volunteers had all been given a warning of sorts that the barn was extremely popular to volunteer in and it was unlikely that we’d start volunteering there right away. But, by some stroke of luck, I was among the first of my volunteer class to be assigned to the barn. I loved it instantly. I felt a sense of belonging and purpose that I hadn’t before. There, underneath a vaulted ceiling made from beams of wood too big for me to wrap my arms around, the smell of sawdust and hay fresh in the air, I began to change. The timid girl I’d been when I came to Conner Prairie was steadily fading away. In her place stood a confident, outgoing me.
I worked in the barn that first summer, and again the summer after that. I had decided early on that I wanted to become a YAC, a Youth Agricultural Captain. I’d seen the way that the YACs carried themselves, with a sense of expertise and drive to do well. I wanted to prove to myself, above everything else, that I had what it took to be a leader. So I worked hard and I committed myself to trying new things-even when they scared me. . When I got an email a few weeks before my twelfth birthday asking me to join the YAC program, I was ecstatic. I’d done it! A new adventure was beginning, and I couldn’t wait.
Lessons Learned as a Youth Agricultural Captain
I’ve been a YAC now for more than six years and I would say that it’s been the single most formative experience of my entire life. During my time in the program, I’ve spoken at national level conventions, designed a program that teaches livestock anatomy for statewide use in schools, learned to drive oxen teams, worked with kidding and lambing, shorn countless sheep, built multiple fences, and become extremely familiar with basic veterinary care. Being a YAC provided me the opportunity to work with and preserve heritage breeds of livestock, such as English Longhorn Cattle, Ossabaw Island Hogs, Arapawa Goats, and countless other breeds of livestock. All these things are skills and opportunities that I never imagined having, but they only scratch the surface of the real impact that the YAC program has had on me. Three, very important lessons I learned from being a YAC leader at Conner Prairie are:
- What I do today matters, because it creates the foundation for what can be done tomorrow.
- Good leaders create change with their own hands, because leading by example emphasizes the fact that everyone has a role in preserving and creating history.
- Giving young people the opportunity to find and develop their passions is absolutely invaluable, because it’s only by experience that we can become.
The Impact of Mentorship
Lastly, one of the most valuable things that the YAC program has afforded me is mentorship. The impact that Stephanie Buchanan, Emily Nyman, the late Kevyn Miller, Enzo Ferroli, and countless other adults within Conner Prairie’s agriculture department have had on me is indescribable. Stephanie and Emily’s influence on me as strong, intelligent, outspoken women in roles of leadership has been essential to me over the past several years. When life was rough, I received support and friendship from my Conner Prairie community. When my leaders knew I wasn’t pushing myself to be the best that I could be, these women challenged me to keep growing and persevere.
It was really impressionable for me as a pre-teen coming into the YAC program to see this group of people, who are incredibly passionate about a cause, actually doing something about it. This act on their cause taught me that the things that I believe in matter, and that I have the power to create the change I want to see in the world. Working with heritage breeds taught me that preserving the past can positively and directly impact the future. I firmly believe that that is a message we, as a society, need to send to today’s youth.
About the Author
Naomi St. Andre is a graduating high school student.