The Man Behind the Mask, Hiding From Responsiblity

By Ken E. Knight (posted with special permission)

As the state and county fairs around the country complete a very successful year, for many, the first in several years, and for some a complete turn around from the brink of extinction to a new found hope, it gives us a chance to reflect back on a very pivotal time in the life of 4-H.

After completing a series of several 4-H articles that addressed the concerns of a program that wasn’t being funded or even supported, it was obvious that we had made considerable progress in bringing attention to the plight of 4-H. But, unfortunately there were several county commissioners in cooperation with state officials that had officially decided to discontinue 4-H at the end of this past year. These are the people that have turned a deaf ear and a blind eye to the importance of 4-H. This kind of decision making is irresponsible and falls into the category of hiding behind the mask.

The man behind the mask
Can’t he see
I often stop to ask
What the rest of us see

The man behind the mask
Always lacked ambition
‘Twas not the size of the task
It was lazy intuition

The man behind the mask
Lived in denial
Just lay back and bask
As though on a revival

The man behind the mask
Lived in a world of fantasy
Leaving us all aghast
The path of make believe and easy

The man behind the mask
Will always be in disguise
Often with a flask
Not because he wasn’t wise

The man behind the mask
Smart enough to milk the system
Will forever have to answer to the ask
Without a smidgen of rationalism

The man behind the mask
Who continues to bemoan and groan
Will at last
Recreantedly stand alone!

The man behind the mask
Once a friend
Just couldn’t last
Now it has all come to an end!

The man behind the mask
Is it he we pray
Could he be just a rascal
Will he someday be OK?

Take off the mask, man
It’s time to get real
Ask him for a new plan
Begin to feel!

The phonies of mankind can be so destructive to the lives of those that need it most. Just ask any 4-H’er from any county where 4-H has been put on the “chopping block”. For the most part, it seems that we have at least temporarily stopped such irresponsible budgeting and behavior. But it sends a very negative message to the youth of our country. Just ask any 4-H’er how real this story is in his or her life. They don’t want to be left behind by those in authority that want to run and hide from responsibility.

Fortunately, it was the 4-H’ers themselves that took responsibility for their own future. Where it was necessary, they went out and raised enough money to keep things going and get the attention of those that ran and hid. In one particular case a 4-H club raised nearly $80,000 and received a last minute grant from the county for $30,000. Do you think these kids aren’t serious about their efforts to sustain and support a major life changing program in their lives? These kids aren’t hiding behind a mask or waiting for someone else to do it for them. They didn’t even let insurmountable obstacles get in their way when many of their proposed creative resolutions were side-tracked because of constitutional restraints; road-blocks that were put in place by those in authority hiding behind the guise of a mask.

Can you imagine the disappointment of working hard to solicit funds, only to find out that municipalities can’t donate to groups such as 4-H? After months of sending out dozens of letters and appearing at city council meetings to solicit donations from willing and able businesses, they were told that a state’s Attorney General’s opinion, dating back to 1941, made it unlawful to specifically give to 4-H. Are these the kind of obstacles that 4-H should be facing?

These kind of judicial obstacles were never the intended purpose of our forefathers or the originators of 4-H that have stood the test of time for nearly 140 years. That’s more than half as long as we’ve been declared a nation. There are few among us that can’t point to 4-H as a stepping stone or a guiding light in our life. It shaped the lives of those who shaped our lives.

When these policy makers continue to make tough decisions, will they have their priorities in order, or is it just easier to hide behind the mask? Do million dollar budget cuts require guts, or just popular opinion? Do the consequences of cutting 4-H staff, eliminating competitive participation at county and state fairs, and destroying a youth leadership program have any effect on society?

What consideration in the budget cutting process could be of more importance than that of our kids?

Unbridled frustration was beginning to set in everywhere. 4-H leaders were expressing disappointment with county commissioners; 4-H extension staff were losing their jobs at both the state and county levels. Fair boards were beginning to see the end of county fairs; first no 4-H, then no fair, and finally a bunch of empty buildings that were dedicated entirely to 4-H. And, most important of all, 4-H members that no longer have a purpose – the opportunity for a sense of pride taken away.

Together we’ve gone around those that choose to hide behind the mask, and have at least temporarily saved 4-H. But considering some of the obstacles that have been faced, the adversities for which they have been challenged, and the resolve of unfounded circumstances, it is important that we never let our guard down. There will always be those that will take the road of least resistance; putting others at risk with their own self-serving interests. May the next board member that hangs on tighter to his billfold than he does to his heart be reminded that compassion and sentiment still buy more than dollars and cents!

If there isn’t some “common sense” legislation put in place to overturn this nonsense-type of governing there will be no more 4-H, and it’s going to “kill” the county fair. Most of the buildings on any given fairgrounds are dedicated to 4-H activities. The fair simply goes hand in hand with 4-H. You can’t have one without the other! And without the fair there will be no activities for which 4-H’ers can participate. As many have expressed, they don’t know what they would do without 4-H; it’s their summer project. Others share the potential disappointment of the threatening loss of 4-H by pleading to fair-goers to understand just how big a role 4-H plays in their life’s experience. They even point out that many may not even realize that it’s all about 4-H. Without 4-H, the animals and other exhibits that they come to see wouldn’t even exist. For those of us that really care about the future of 4-H, it wasn’t possible for us to stand by and do nothing.

4-H is the one constant from which many draw strength and measure competitive standards in life. Rewarding failure, such as welfare, (while penalizing success) would have made little or no sense. What kind of role model would we have become to our kids? The younger generation would have paid the price for our mistakes. Thank you for not allowing ill-advised board members and outdated legislation to compound the challenges of our children. The loss of 4-H would have removed the one model in our lives that has stood the test of time and produced a platform of stability and leadership.

The standard bearer of 4-H has been that of teaching kids to be good stewards of their lives and the lives of those they affect. Life isn’t just about doing for yourself; it is equally that of doing for others. The more you give the more you get back in return! 4-H instills these values in a way that leaves a lifetime impression. Did we really want to see our kids cheated out of one of life’s finest opportunities – to develop character and responsibility?

4-H has taught the skills to sustain and overcome the obstacles that life throws our way. It has shown us strength in the weakest of times and a determination that is unmatched. Isn’t this what dreams are made of? Isn’t this why we stepped up to the plate to fight for what’s right?

Isn’t this why counties all across the country have hope for a new tomorrow and assurance that 4-H is here to stay? To have eliminated the funding of such a proven program, that has such a positive impact on our youth, would have been a disservice to every young person across America. Folks just weren’t going to give in to the Man Behind The Mask. “The real friends of 4-H came through for us.”

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