Oulstee, Florida resident James Croft became involved with 4-H in the ninth grade through a 4-H club at his high school. At the time, he was already raising quail as a hobby and was interested in learning more. He knew 4-H had a poultry program but didn’t think he could raise quail. The 4-H agent assured him that raising quail would qualify for a project and so Croft joined and remained active until he graduated four years later.
“4-H is a good program,” says Croft. “It helps youth explore areas and develop skills that they wouldn’t have a chance to otherwise. It helps them find things they can excel in. Things that will help them later in life.”
One skill Croft honed while in 4-H was his public speaking skills, which he says has helped him throughout his career – especially when working as a radio announcer and disc jokey for WBKF in MacClenny, Florida. He also uses these skills in his work as a Southern Baptist evangelist and as a guest/motivational speaker at 4-H activities and events.
One thing Croft says continues to impress him about 4-H is its ability to stay plugged in with what today’s youth want and need.
“The program has so much diversity these days. I love that 4-H is keeping up with times and providing things kids are interested in - that will help them in their futures,” says Croft.
“This program allows kids find a niche and something they’re good at. So many times if you’re not good at sports or academics there is nothing for you, but 4-H lets kids find something they can excel in and become a leader in.”
Croft says his involvement with 4-H helps him understand today’s youth a little better.
“It has given me a greater appreciation of what the youth today are faced with and what they are capable of doing, which in turn makes you want to become more involved,” says Croft.
Croft says one great thing he has gained from his involvement in 4-H was friendships.
“My greatest time in 4-H was the summer between my junior and senior years in high school,” says Croft. “I was able to participate in ‘Citizenship Short Course’ and was able to travel to Washington, D.C. with 27 or 28 other 4-Hers from Florida. It was such an exciting week to tour D.C. and sit in classes. I’ll never forget a speaker from the 3rd Guard of the Tomb of the Unknown Solider.”
It was on this trip that Croft met fellow 4-Her David Dinkins and the pair became quick friends. However, the pair eventually lost touch when both went off to college. Several years later Croft was elected to the Baker County Commission and traveled to Nassau County to judge district events. Tere he ran into Dinkins, who was an extension agent by this time and their friendship rekindled.
“Seeing him was like we never lost touch,” says Croft. “Our continued involvement with 4-H keeps our paths crossing and has helped us maintain our friendship over the years.”
Croft served on the Baker County Advisory Committee for 16 years. He is now the assistant director at New River Solid Waste Facility in Olustee, Florida where he has been instrumental in obtaining thousands of dollars in grant funds for environmental day camps for 4-H members in Baker, Bradford and Union counties as part of his company’s ”Keep America Beautiful” campaign.
“My experience in 4-H gave me the confidence to pursue my goals and gave me the skills to be a success at whatever I set my mind to do,” Croft said.