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Youth volunteers from Wellington County Junior Farmers give back to community

'You learn how to take on more leadership,' said WCJF president, Laura Shaw, about participating in the program

WELLINGTON COUNTY – After a long in-person hiatus, Wellington County Junior Farmers is excited to integrate back into the community and get volunteering again.

“With COVID the past two years, we’ve been around, but we haven’t been inviting more community members into our organization," said Laura Shaw, president of the WCJF. 

Established in the area in the 1960s, the Wellington County Junior Farmers is an agricultural cooperative which aims to build future leaders through self help, community betterment, networking and volunteer opportunities. It also was a way for youth to socialize with one another.

Restarted in 2010, the group has seen steady membership over the past few years, said Shaw.

“The purpose is to get out into the community," said Shaw about the WCJF. "We do a lot of community involvement in terms of volunteering, just through helping out at local fairs, sometimes we volunteer to bar tend at weddings as a fundraiser, and we always try to give back through donations to the local food bank.”

"We're a group of people that like to get out in the community and give back, and obviously have fun while we're doing it," said Shaw. "Before we really liked getting together at our monthly socials, and we'd go out an do something like bowling, or have a campfire, or something like that, and then we had to switch to a virtual platform, and not all of our members were as interested in a virtual platform, so it did slow down a bit, but with things opening up again, so we have picked up a pace a bit and we've started to plan things more in person and follow public health guidelines."

"We're starting to get back out for a bit and see what opportunities are to volunteer within the community still."

Unlike youth programs like 4-H, Shaw mentions WCJF is run entirely by youth.

“We’re (Junior Farmers) more run by the youth. We don’t have, I would say, an older community person overseeing us where our group, we’re a group of 15 to 29 year olds, and all our executive board members are all in that age range,” said Shaw, comparing WCJF to other youth programs like 4-H.

Developing leadership skills and gaining networking opportunities are just some benefits WCJF provides youth in rural areas. Locally, Shaw said WCJF volunteers help organize food drives and road cleaning projects, but they also participate in provincial events and international exchange opportunities with countries like Wales and Ireland.

“International delegates come over on exchange and they spend about two weeks in each county, so they spend two weeks in Wellington County, and they do touristy things,” Shaw said about the international exchange.

“I always find it interesting, because you don’t realize how much work goes into planning it until you’re in the middle of it, but then at the end, you get a sense of accomplishment, because in the big picture, you’re affecting more than just yourself, because you’re showing the world what Centre Wellington has to offer.”

Joining the WCJF back in 2018, Shaw said her experience with the organization has helped to push her out of her comfort zone and take on leadership opportunities.

“When I started, I never thought I would be in this position, even answering questions and it's nice to see how WCJF has made me grow and pushed me to be a more of a leader, and I know it will help other people too,” said Shaw. “It's one of those things where there's lots of little opportunities and you just need to look for them, take the leap and see where it takes you."

The WCJF is getting back into the community by planning a series of events, including a euchre tournament which will take place this summer. Its next monthly meeting and social event is taking place on April 2. 

Despite a majority of these members having agriculture backgrounds, Shaw mentions anyone can join their organization. 

"It's open to everyone and anyone, and that really, we're just a group of people that like to get out in the community and give back," said Shaw. "If you like sitting on boards, then it is a good opportunity to sit on our country board and work your way up to junior executive."

To join the WCJF, interested participants can email wellingtoncountyjuniorfarmers@gmail.com.