Editor’s note: Attracting young blood into leadership roles in rural organizations can be a challenge. The first problem is finding it, as youth often leave their communities to follow their careers, and the second – to make them feel welcome. The following piece suggests the Manitoba Association of Agricultural Societies is on the right track.
Two years ago, when my father returned from his annual agricultural society meeting for the Gilbert Plains/Grandview Agricultural Society and announced that he had become the new chair for the light horse show, I had never imagined I would at tend a provincial MAAS conference.
Those two short years ago, my mother and I read the cry of help in his declaration and knew we could not leave him to run the light horse show himself. My father knew next to nothing about horses beyond how to feed them.
A couple years of involvement in the show, both behind the scenes with my mom as a co-ordinator, and openly as the light horse announcer made me decide I wanted more attachment to the event. Shortly after the 2009 show’s completion, I expressed an interest in joining the Agricultural society as his cochair for the show. A few short months later, I found my name on the registration list for the MAAS conference.
Certainly I was pleased. To me, it didn’t seem like I could get any more involved than I had at that moment. As far as I knew, being a representative was a big deal.
When I arrived, I realized I was 19, completely new, and suddenly felt I was in way over my head. I’ll be the first to admit, I followed my father around like a shy toddler, ready to hide behind him should I become too frightened by my superiors in experience. I was fretful that my whole experience of MAAS would be to sit, and watch, and wait, and let my father do the talking.
To my pleasure, what I anticipated, and what occurred were two very different things.
The presentations were easy in which to immerse myself. I felt qualified to be in the crowd as I quickly jotted notes on the provided pads of paper concerning what points would be best to keep in mind. It felt like I was once again sitting at a table in a college course, and yet it was so much different. The familiarity in the task of note taking set me at ease, and I began to think that maybe it wouldn’t be so bad, and my earlier nervousness was all for nothing. I belonged to the intended audience of the presentations, and I was retaining valuable information from them.
Things went a step beyond that as not only were we allowed mingling, but required to meet new people by the seating arrangements. It became a sudden necessity that I leave the comfort zone I had created in following my father.
I believe that was the moment my experience at MAAS broadened and became intensely heartening in my pursuit as an agricultural society member. For the first time at the conference, I fully felt like I was involved as opposed to just an observer.
The involvement of the 4-H conference occurring at the same time was definitely a huge help for that fact. It was comforting to see other people my age, and cheering knowing there were more people I had something in common with. Their involvement did offer an intriguing avenue in how I introduced myself to the other members of MAAS. I was, and still am a prominent 4-H member, but my name tag read “Gilbert Plains/Grandview Ag Society” and not the name of my 4-H club.
GIVEN A VOICE
The realization suddenly turned me into a person the other members of MAAS wanted to see, and I had a prominent voice and involvement where I had expected none. People became interested in who I was, and what role I played on my agricultural society. The atmosphere in those moments had suddenly become less scary, and much, much more welcoming.
The enthusiasm in which I, as a young member, was received and accepted by the other members of MAAS was one of the most gratifying experiences of my decision in late 2009. Knowing that I mattered, and my presence was wanted by people at a provincial level was the largest confidence booster I could have received for the tasks that I would set out to do upon MAAS’s conclusion.
I can’t thank the co-ordinators and other members of MAAS enough for providing me with the warm welcome and encouragement that they did. It was comforting to know people of my age and ambition were wanted at MAAS, and a lot of people’s interests were stirred because of it.
The positive experience I had at MAAS left me unable to wait to dig my arms deep into the responsibilities laid out ahead of me at my own agricultural society. If asked, I only have positive words for those who would take the same path as I have to become involved in something as enriching as their local agricultural societies. I look forward to attending future MAAS conferences as a prominent member for years to come, and hope to see the number of youth broaden.
Chenise Puchailo is a
journalism student from Dauphin.