Dr. Elaine Shook became involved in 4-H early in life. As a 4-H member, her favorite projects were sewing, public speaking, and leadership. She noted, “While all these activities gave me a creative outlet, they became my favorites because I was supported and encouraged by adults whom I admired.”
4-H was an important outlet for Shook. “4-H gave me an opportunity to expand my horizons through travel, meet a diverse group of adults and youth, and learn a variety of information and skills through programs, camps, and Congress,” said Shook.
She was selected to attend the National 4-H Congress in Chicago. It was an eye-opening experience for her. “It was my first time being in the middle of downtown in a big city. We stayed at the Conrad Hilton Hotel. Everyone was so gracious and treated us so well,” said Shook. “One afternoon we were able to go shopping downtown and I chose to go to Marshall Fields, but it was huge - like a big Macy's - and I couldn't get over the cases of gloves and scarves.”
Shook graduated from 4-H became an extension agent in Leon County in September 1975. In 1981, she became the 4-H program leader for Leon County.
4-H remains relevant and important for young people today, says Shook. “It gives them an opportunity to be responsible, but in a supportive and encouraging environment. It teaches them skills for the future and how to be self-reliant. It gives them an opportunity to be around others in a culturally-diverse arena to learn about one another and appreciate the skills each one offers.”
Drawing from her own experience, Shook knew the importance of learning communication skills. As a 4-H agent, she took the 4-H Tropicana Public Speaking Program from 2-3 schools reaching 200 young people, to dozens of public schools in Leon County and reaching thousands of youth.
In 2005, more than 30 elementary schools and 15 middle schools participated in the public speaking contest, with approximately 7,000 fourth, fifth and sixth graders involved. She helped create the first statewide 4-H Tropicana District Public Speaking Contest in the northwest Florida district. Materials she wrote to help young people prepare speeches are still in use today and helping children conquer their fears when faced with delivering their first speech in front of a classroom.
Shook also developed programs to help young people learn financial literacy. An afterschool program with at-risk youth helped them learn how to manage a bank account and consider their financial decisions. She developed programs called “Mall Madness” and “It’s a Jungle Out There” to help youth gain money management and job employment skills.
She received her doctorate from Florida State University. For her dissertation research, she focused on youth development. She surveyed hundreds of sixth-graders to discover if being deprived of fashionable clothing had any effect on student self-esteem and social participation. She found that not having clothing that was perceived as in-style affected student self-esteem and participation in activities at school. He work helped her guide other programs to help 4-H members.
Shook received the Distinguished Service Award in 1998 and the Meritorious Service Award in 2004 from the Florida Association of Extension 4-H Agents (FAE4-HA). The Tallahassee chapter of Phi Delta Kappa presented her with the Service in Education Award in 1993. Shook also received the College of Human Sciences Outstanding Alumni Award from Florida State University in 2004.
A 4-H alumna who holds a special place in her heart is Wylin Dassie. Dassie was very active in the 4-H program. After Dassie graduated from high school and went to Florida A&M University, she became president of the Agricultural Sciences Club. Dassie and her fellow club members raised funds to help Leon County 4-H’ers go to summer camp at 4-H Camp Cherry Lake. Even though she has moved away from Tallahassee and has been very busy pursuing a PhD, Dassie still calls and visits with Shook when she can. “She is a very special person and I’m glad our paths crossed through 4-H,” said Shook.
Shook retired from her work as an extension agent and program leader with the 4-H program in December 2005. But her involvement with 4-H has continued. She remains active as a volunteer supporting the 4-H program.
4-H offers a great deal to young people, notes Shook, who adds that sometimes young people learn a great deal even when things with a 4-H project don’t go as well as planned. That was even true for her as a young 4-H member, she reflected: “Even during those times when I didn't do as well, I received constructive criticism and encouragement to continue.”
The impact 4-H had on her life was significant, notes Shook. “4-H gave me so much as a child and teen and led me to my career path. I am so grateful to the organization as it helped me to grow and develop and gave me a career that has affected so many youth. I am proud that I was given this opportunity to make a difference in peoples' lives.”