ASHLAND, Ohio — Natalee Blackford, 20, has won her fair share of awards throughout her years in 4-H, but she’s not one to put her accomplishments on display.
Growing up, she was known as “Kathy’s daughter” — because her mother was the Ashland County Extension 4-H educator — but Blackford was determined to make a name for herself.
During her last year of 4-H, Blackford was named Ohio’s 2017 Teen of the Year and is the currently the only teen to win this award and be inducted into the 4-H Teen Hall of Fame (2016).
She is wrapping up her final year of involvement in state 4-H as president of the Teen Leadership Council. “I think it’s a good way to go out,” she said.
As a junior at Ohio State University, Blackford hopes her career path leads her back to 4-H in some form, whether that’s working for the state or national program or just serving as a volunteer.
When it came to 4-H, Blackford said she didn’t have a choice. Blackford’s mother, Kathy Blackford, had been taking her along to camp since she was a little girl.
“I knew I wanted to be a camp counselor one day,” she said, adding she wasn’t as interested in having animals and showing at the county fair. “Camp kept me excited about 4-H.”
Her older sister, Nella, was also involved in 4-H and, “everything she did, I wanted to do, and do it better,” Blackford joked.
“Each part of 4-H has a different reward to it,” she said.
As a camp counselor, watching the 4-H youth she had in her cabin at camp continue to grow and excel in the 4-H program gives her great pride.
“I get to watch these amazing people grow up,” she said.
“I used to be afraid of people being better than me,” she said. “Now I tell the kids, ‘don’t try to be as good as me, be better.’”
Throughout her 4-H career, Blackford has taken projects to the Ashland County Fair, including a rabbit she showed for 10 years, and still projects such as photography and cooking. But it is in her leadership roles where she shows her true strengths and passion for the 4-H program.
Blackford has served as president of the Ashland County junior fair board, was an Ashland County junior fair queen, was part of the Ohio 4-H ambassador program, joined the Ohio 4-H Teen Leadership Council (formerly known as Teen Advisory Council), and has attended the National 4-H Congress and National Service Learning Conference.
After attending the Service Learning Conference, Blackford was tasked with creating a program she could do with youth in her home county.
“I started Cloverbud Reading Adventures,” she said. Blackford purchased books and put together a one-day activity and craft related to a book they would read that day. At the end of the program, each participant would get two to five books.
“We were able to give away 600 books that day,” she said. The youth were not required to be in 4-H, but had to be Cloverbud age (5 to 8 years old) and Blackford said many of the youth joined 4-H after the program.
Blackford presented her program at the Ohio 4-H Conference that year and the program went statewide.
Another award Blackford holds dear is an award she was given by her mother.
The I Dare You Leadership Award is presented to up to four youth 4-H members in the county by the American Youth Foundation in cooperation with principals and 4-H county educators across the nation.
“My mom told me, ‘I wasn’t going to give you this award, but you earned it.’”
If there is one person Blackford admires most in her life, it’s her mother.
Growing up, Blackford said she would see her mom leave for work from 8 a.m.-5 p.m., come home to have dinner with her children before rushing out the door again to do an evening program.
“She would sometimes run six programs a week and she didn’t always have to, but she wanted to,” said Blackford.
“We try so hard to do everything correctly and go the extra mile because that’s what she did.”
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