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Colorado youth embodies 4-H’s ‘Grow True Leaders’ campaign

Progressive Dairyman Writer Audrey Schmitz Published on 12 September 2016
Topanga McBride

In the words of Jennifer Sirangelo, president and CEO of the National 4-H Council, a true leader leads by example, works well with others, tackles tough challenges head-on and sticks with a job until it’s done.

A shining example of a true leader in 4-H dairy youth today is Topanga McBride from Severence, Colorado.

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McBride came from a unique situation where she personally did not grow up on a dairy farm but has been extensively involved in raising and showing dairy cows. Her mother grew up in Arizona showing dairy in 4-H and wanted to pass on the tradition to McBride and her sister.

“I didn’t really choose my 4-H project. It chose me,” McBride says. “When I turned 8, my mom said, ‘Topanga, we are going to go to the dairy and we are going to get you a heifer so you can show in 4-H.’”

On an extra acre in her neighborhood, McBride raised her first Milking Shorthorn heifer. For the first three years of showing, McBride had a rough start because her Milking Shorthorn was not tame and managed to run her over during showmanship, landing her last place.

McBride says her mother offered to let her try a different project, but she was determined to stick with dairy and started over with a new cow.

The second time around, McBride says she was more responsible and learned how to properly train and clip her new Milking Shorthorn. As she grew older, she became a role model to younger 4-H’ers by assisting with showmanship clinics and leading by example.

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“I’d take the younger kids in my club with me to shake the judge’s hand to show them that it is about having fun, it is about learning and growing, and in the end you can’t control the outcome, but you can have pride in the work you put in,” McBride says. “So I made sure I had the right attitude around the show instead of letting my emotions get to me.”

By practicing good sportsmanship and applying patience, McBride says she started to see her hard work finally pay off in the end.

“I went from getting last place in the shows to getting grand champion in showmanship, competing in round robin and winning supreme champion cow at the Colorado State fair,” McBride says.

Despite the success showing her supreme champion cow, Maddie, they had problems with her pregnancies, and she aborted her first calf. On her second breeding, her cow would not take to A.I., and after her third pregnancy, Maddie had ketosis and did not recover.

“I really matured so much because of what 4-H put me through,” McBride says. “I learned a lot about leadership and about integrity, and I think because of 4-H, I am who I am today.”

McBride believes leadership is about putting others before oneself to help a group succeed in achieving a goal. In her eyes, it is more than just focusing on oneself and being self-centered. She says there are a lot of problems that need to be solved in the world, and leadership is helping people work together to solve those problems and come together over similar values to achieve a goal.

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In today’s society, there is a critical need for true leaders who are prepared with the skills to deal with the problems of today and challenges of tomorrow. One issue McBride came to recognize from her dairy experience was a lack of leadership development opportunities for students to specifically advocate for agriculture.

Her freshman year of college while at Kansas State University, McBride worked with her county extension agent to create the Weld Agricultural Leadership Ambassadors program. After countless conference calls and trips back to Colorado, she was successful in getting the program started.

Every year since, five to 10 senior 4-H’ers interested in agriculture are interviewed and selected to receive training, tour different industries and give presentations to groups about agriculture. When the ambassadors complete a year of the program, they receive a $1,000 scholarship for their college education.

McBride hopes to see the program expand to other counties, saying it could be easily replicated across the country. Even though she personally didn’t get to go through her own program, she is proud to have an impact on younger members and leave her legacy in Weld County 4-H.

“It took integrity to create a program like this where I knew in the end I wouldn’t get this experience, but kids in the future are going to get the experience, and they are really going to grow,” McBride says. “4-H taught me this type of selflessness and integrity.”  end mark

Audrey Schmitz was a 2016 Progressive Dairyman editorial intern.

More information is available on the website 4-H Grow True Leaders campaign.

PHOTO: Topanga McBride, a “true leader” in her 4-H dairy project, worked with her county extension agent to create the Weld Agricultural Leadership Ambassador program. Photo provided by Topanga McBride.

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