The commitment Betty Jo Tompkins has to citizenship, leadership and personal achievement began as a young 4-H’er in Dade County, Florida. While Tompkins was raised in anything-but-rural Miami, she spent her summers on her grandparents’ dairy farm in Pennsylvania.
“I came to 4-H in a very unusual way,” said Tompkins. “Every summer my parents and I would go to work on my grandparents’ dairy farm. Even though I was used to a very urban environment, as soon as I was exposed to agriculture, I was hooked.”
When Tompkins was ten-years-old, her elementary school began a 4-H club and she has been involved with the 4-H program, in some capacity, ever since.
As a young person Tompkins was extremely active with 4-H and enjoyed participating in a wide variety of projects - from baking and clothing construction to public speaking and recreation.
She was also very active in the Dade County Youth Fair, where she often entered up to 100 exhibits. She was even crowned Fair Queen. Her skills in food and nutrition helped her earn a trip to the National 4-H Congress. She was a state winner for leadership and a delegate to the National 4-H Conference.
At age 16, Tompkins became a club leader for a group in a disadvantaged area of Miami, where her club members learned to sew clothing for disabled individuals. She also taught her club members cooking and nutrition. Her leadership led to service as Club President, County 4-H Council President, and District 4-H Council President. She was also the State 4-H Council Parliamentarian.
“4-H was such a wonderful thing for me as a young person,” said Tompkins. “It gave me a sense of purpose and taught me not to be afraid of a challenge. It’s also given me life-long friends.”
Tompkins remained active in 4-H while attending the University of Florida, where she received a degree in public relations with a minor in agriculture and sociology.
As an adult Tompkins continued her support of the 4-H program by serving as both a traditional club leader and by forming a 4-H Exchange Club.
“I was very grateful for all the wonderful opportunities given to me by 4-H. Once I had my own child I wanted to to make sure these same opportunities were available to Chris and his friends,” said Tompkins. “We organized an exchange club and were able to exchange weeks with 4-H’ers all over the United States. We even went to Mexico and Canada.”
Tompkins son went on to realize great success in the 4-H program as a National winner in citizenship, and was serving on the Florida 4-H Foundation Board of Directors in 2005, when he passed away from leukemia. She treasures the time he spent in 4-H.
“All the young people in that club credit their 4-H leadership and public speaking skills as being incredibly useful in their careers,” said Tompkins. “They found themselves at a great competitive advantage with the training they received in 4-H.”
Tompkins feels that today’s youth need 4-H more than ever. “We’re living in a society where there is a lot of depersonalization. You wouldn’t think so because of all the exposure to technology, but kids are isolated,” said Tompkins. “We don’t realize that the most important thing we can give to kids is not money or things, but time. I think it is tragic how many kids now a days are on roads heading the wrong direction and they don’t really understand their purpose.”
Tompkins says 4-H offers this purpose to young people. “You can go as far as you want to go in this program. You can have one animal or a herd of animals. You can attend your once-a-week club or you can do projects on the state a National level,” said Tompkins.
Service is an important part of 4-H, notes Tompkins. “4-H teaches young people how to serve others. Volunteerism is an important element of life. Today’s kids need to be taught how to share their assets - their time and talents - with others. I always tell my kids they have an imaginary “skill pack of life.” Their goal in life is to be constantly filling that skill pack so that when people ask you to do something for others, you’re there and ready to go.”
In addition to currently serving as President of the Hillsborough County Foundation, Tompkins is the Treasurer of the State 4-H Foundation. She is active in many other civic and religious organizations including Rotary, the Neighborhood Service Center, Catholic Charities and Mercy House. Tompkins is the President of Strategies Plus, a consulting firm specializing in government representation.