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Conquering fears through 4-H
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Stone Mountain's newest attraction, Sky Hike, sends 300 people an hour into the skies as they traverse rope and bridge elements.

From personal experience, I can assure you the harness really does work if you slip at 36 feet; it just leaves a little rope burn.

A Gallup poll estimates that more than a third of Americans are afraid of heights, so one can only stare in amazement as people wait in line for hours to have their chance to ascend the ropes course.

A bell stands near the exit with a sign reading, "Ring this bell if you have conquered your fears today."

I did not ring the bell last weekend, but it made me wonder about the need for a bell at the 4-H office.

I was the shyest, geekiest 5th grader at Palmer-Stone when I was elected president of my 4-H club.

After overcoming the shock of beating the prettiest and most popular girls in class, I realized I would have to stand in front of my class once a month to lead meetings.

Public speaking ranks above heights as the number two fear of Americans on that same poll, so I'm sure many of you understand how I felt.

At officer training, we played a silly game with toilet paper. How was toilet paper going to help me stand in front of those awful, teasing classmates?

The other newly elected presidents sounded as nervous as I felt, so it did make rehearsing the 4-H meeting script a little easier.

After a few meetings, I decided public speaking wasn't so bad when you had a script to read, so I signed up for County Project Achievement and carefully wrote my speech on cards.

The judge suggested I forget the cards and try memorization next time, which turned out easier than I thought.

By the following year, I added poultry judging to my 4-H activities. During 4-H judging events, you must not only rank a class of four laying hens, wildlife plots, horses, cell phone plans or some other item, but you then have to organize your reasons and give a short speech to a judge.

In 7th grade, demonstrations expand to 8-10 minutes, which was easy enough. Little four-minute school presentations were nothing by now.

Another addition in 7th grade is a free, three-day weekend at Rock Eagle for District Project Achievement. At school I knew most of the students, but here were several hundred completely new middle and high school students.

One girl started a conversation with me, and I suddenly realized how easy it was to make a new friend. Over the next six years, I swapped addresses with countless 4-H'ers and started mailing letters.

As I built up my experience and confidence through 4-H, I sought leadership roles in other clubs, volunteered to speak at meetings, and earned my way onto faculty-student committees at Newton High.

When the graduation committee searched for songs, I was surprised to hear students I saw as the most confident, self-assured athletes and scholars suggest songs that said we were ending the best time of our lives.

Through 4-H I spent years practicing leadership skills, building friendships across the state, competing on teams and as an individual, and building my self-confidence. I knew that college was nothing scarier than a 4-H event stretched out over four years.

During a freshman public speaking course at UGA, I was amazed at the number of students afraid to give that same five-minute speech with posters I'd been doing since the 5th grade.

Maybe I would not have known to ring the bell if it had been there, because I never felt like I had to face my fears all at once. With each experience, the butterflies in my stomach just flew away one at a time.

Ten years later, here I am planning 4-H officer training for a new crop of 5th graders to be elected as school begins. I don't know how many of them are as nervous as I was 19 years ago, but I can only hope they'll gain half the confidence I did from 4-H.

Terri Kimble is the Program Specialist with Newton County 4-H, serving youth ages 9-19. She can be reached at or 770-784-2010.