Young 4-H members often recite a pledge prior to each meeting that declares, “I pledge my head to clearer thinking, my heart to greater loyalty, my hands to larger service, and my health to better living, for my club, my community, my country and my world.” However, one young lady leads her local 4-H club to actually using their hands and their hearts to provide a service in their community.
What started as a Service Learning project for then, second-year 4-H member Olivia Shike, has spiraled into a long-term Citizenship project for the now 12-year-old from Sadorus, Ill. The first year she started visiting the residents at Maple Point Assisted Living, along with her parents, Dan and Jennifer, and younger siblings, Hunter and Harper. She wanted to give them a gift in addition to visiting them, then she remembered a tie-blanket she had made her grandfather for Christmas. She thought the residents at Maple Point would each enjoy a tie-blanket too. So, she got other members of her 4-H Club, the Sadorus 4-H All Stars, involved in the Blanket Buddies project.
“It’s a visual reminder that someone is always caring about them because it can get really lonely at the facility when their family isn’t always near.” Olivia said. “We wanted to make them the blankets, so they would remember someone is always loving them and someone cares for them.”
Olivia took her Blanket Buddies proposal to the Champaign County Extension Council to ask for funding. They granted her $250 for materials to make the blankets. Her 4-H club provided matching funds for any extra costs. Club members met for two nights to make the tie blankets, which don’t require any sewing, before delivering 33 total blankets to the residents of Maple Point. While there, the youth shared with the residents about their different 4-H projects and started forming friendships.
Satisfied with the Blanket Buddies phase of her project, and with other members of her club meeting the residents at Maple Point, Olivia developed Phase 2 of her Citizenship project – Pen Pals. She asked the residents who were interested in having a pen pal to write their name and address on an envelope and matched them up with other young people in her 4-H club.
“After we handed out blankets some of the kids in my club came up and said, ‘I made friends with so-and-so’ and I would give that kid that person’s envelope to be pen pals with,” she said.
The Pen Pals project allows friendships to blossom between the generations and keeps the communication flowing between in-person visits. Olivia and her family visit as often as they can, and she said she plans activities for the club to attend and participate in like a talent show, carnival and Bingo.
The Shikes visited at Halloween and will visit Maple Point again closer to Christmas. Although they enjoy visiting with all residents, Olivia says her family has formed three special friendships over the years. Her brother Hunter and his pen pal, Willard, who unfortunately passed away last spring, liked to talk about everything, especially Legos. Olivia’s pen pal, Donna, always asks her about school. And, Hunter’s other pen pal, Helen, who is blind, can always hear little sister Harper, and enjoys the visits.
“It makes her day a whole lot better,” Olivia said about Helen. “Holidays are the hardest times for them. That is when they miss their family the most.”
“You’re never too young to make a difference. You can always find a way to help and spread holiday cheer. Even if it is just going to see a neighbor that is going through a hard time. You don’t have to do a big project or a big elaborate thing to make a difference.”
Olivia is active showing breeding gilts and market hogs in her state and nationally. She also shows horses and competes in cross-country. With a caring heart, hands that serve her community and leadership skills to encourage her peers to serve others as well, she makes Sure Champ #AgProud!