“My family does 4-H like a lot of families play baseball.” So said Allyson Brake, 18, a Wilson County 4-H’er who started her first livestock project after being given a lamb named “Peanut” for her fifth birthday.
Allyson “dove headfirst into citizenship” after winning her first 4-H club office in middle school, she said. She went on to become a County Council officer at the age of 14, Southeast district president and County Council president at 16, and she served as state 4-H president last year as a college freshman.
“It has been the hardest job I’ve ever had that I think I could have the most fun at,” said Allyson, 18. “It is a lot of work and a lot of time and a lot of miles to travel, but the people you meet and the connections you gain through this program are something you can’t gain doing anything else.”
She never considered not joining 4-H. In fact, her presidency seemed to be written in the stars.
In Clover All Over: North Carolina’s First 4-H Century, author Jim Clark predicted that Allyson’s mother, Kristina (Bass) Brake, would produce the next 4-H president 25 years later. His guess was off by only one year.
Kristina, who served as state 4-H president from 1985 to 1986, comes from a long line of 4-H’ers.
“I got involved at age nine, and my father and grandfather were both 4-H’ers,” she said. “My grandfather was a member of the second Honor Club, and my father participated in local, district, state and national competitions. My sister also was a state officer and the first national winner in beef.
“We’re a 4-H family,” she said. “Allyson is part of the same 4-H club that my granddaddy was in, and we’ve had four generations in the same Lucama community club.”Today, Kristina is an active leader in the Lucama 4-H club, along with her husband, James, who has helped start a new and very popular 4-H shooting club.
As state 4-H president, Allyson traveled the state to participate in events, give speeches and “market the 4-H brand,” as she said.
A communications/pre-law major at Campbell University, Allyson juggled her 4-H presidency with her first year of college, a feat that she said was difficult at first. “Once I got myself into a routine, it wasn’t really that bad,” she said.
Kristina accompanied her on a few speaking engagements, but, she said, “Allyson really took the ball and ran with it. She’s gone so many places in the last year, and she’s done a really good job.”
She said the program has changed a lot since she was an officer, now giving the young leaders more responsibility and depending on them as spokespeople for 4-H. But, according to Kristina, the heart of the organization remains unchanged.
“The skill set that 4-H provides these young people and the opportunities for public speaking and travel are exceptional,” she said. “A lot of kids don’t have an opportunity to get outside their comfort zone. 4-H makes it possible.
“The friendships are one of the most important things,” she adds. “I have friends from 4-H whose kids are now friends with my kids. It’s really neat.”
Allyson agrees. “The connections, the friendships are the most important thing to me,” she said. “Also, to be able to take what I’ve learned and share it. I feel like being state officer was my way to give back to the program that has given me so much.
“4-H is such a great opportunity, and it opens so many doors,” Allyson added. “You just have to choose which door to walk through.”
After college, Allyson said she plans to become an advocate for agriculture. “I really want to make sure the future is secure for farmers and farmland because the need for our farmers is only going to grow the bigger the world gets,” she said.
“I also really want to be able to do something that would allow me to give back to this program.”
Although she officially stepped down as state 4-H president last summer, Allyson said she’ll be involved for life.
“This isn’t goodbye,” she said with a little laugh. “You can’t get rid of me that easy! It’s hard to believe it’s over. I wouldn’t trade this past year for all the money in the world.”
— Suzanne Stanard