EAGLE, Colo. – Just as the blood that courses through her veins helps keep Jenny Leonetti alive, so does 4H.
It was her foundation, something that allowed her to develop a strong personality and a passion for agriculture. It’s what guided her to a career, now as the 4H Extension Agent for Eagle County. When the Eagle County Fair and Rodeo kicks off later this month, Leonetti’s passion will be on full display.
“The county fair is the culmination of a year’s worth of work for these kids,” said Leonetti, who was involved in 4H from age 5 to 18, most of which was in Eagle County. “The kids who show steers get their animals in the fall, then show them the next year. It’s a strong commitment.”
Most of the 4H’ers will be involved in the exhibits that take place Tuesday, July 11-Saturday, July 22, though the horse shows are scheduled for Saturday, July 8, and Sunday, July 9.
“During the main week of the fair that begins Monday, July 16, we will have all of our main livestock shows,” she said. “We wrap up the week with our Junior Livestock Auction, which begins at 1 p.m. on July 22.
“We have a very big Junior Livestock Auction. If the animals are market ready, they can be part of the auction. Many of these kids are going to college and having their college paid for from the proceeds of the livestock sale.”
It is a just reward for years of hard work caring for something else.
“We have a lot of kids that live in town that don’t have land to raise their animals,” Leonetti said. “We have two community barns – one in Gypsum and one in Eagle. These kids have an opportunity to raise an animal and bring it to the fair to show.
“To me, that’s really awesome to see them involved in the aspect of agriculture.”
She knows better than most. Not only has she experienced it every day the last 14 years as an extension agent in Eagle County, she lived it and loved it as a youth.
“The 4H experience was great for me,” she said. “It’s why I went to college to be a 4H agent. I am very grateful for what 4H did in my life.”
Now she’s seeing others receive similar benefits.
“I love seeing the life skills 4H instills in these kids,” Leonetti said. “You see the end results of all their hard work and so many life skills. To see what 4H is doing in their lives is really neat for me to see.
“I see it when the kids get out of 4H and they come back, they attribute their success back to 4H.”
There’s a reason for that, said fair board member Loyd Gerard.
“I think the biggest thing with 4H is that the kids and their parents are learning how to take care of animals, but it’s also about being together and having family values,” said Gerard, a third-generation Eagle County rancher. “I think that’ something that’s missing from today’s society.
“The kids can make a little money for college. That’s important. I’ve had the opportunity to see these kids grow up, get married and have kids still active in 4H. It’s pretty neat watching these kids grow and blossom.”
Just as the animals and other projects need care, so does the youth. That’s why 4H is such a vital part of the community.
“I think of all the kids being winners,” he said. “I think there are a lot of kids that put in a lot of hard work and don’t have grand champions, but they still win because of the lessons they received.”