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Committed family man finds his volunteering home in 4-H poultry program

Mark with his wife and children.
If you ask Mark Otto about his 4-H roots, he’ll likely chuckle before explaining that he’s “been a member since the womb.” Mark grew up in a large, tight-knit family and his mother was a 4-H alum. She made sure all her children were actively involved. Mother Otto firmly believed that the skills 4-H builds in young people last a lifetime.

Since childhood, Mark has remained involved in 4-H. As a youth he attended local, regional and statewide events and explored a variety of project areas until identifying his clear favorites, leadership and citizenship.

As an adult, Mark’s used the skills he grew in 4-H to help his own children learn and explore. He loves the 4-H hands-on philosophy and how the many activities allow all youth, no matter their age, to find something they love.

“It’s the right organization at the right time for everyone,” said Mark as he thought about how all his children can explore in 4-H together. “I’ve learned as a parent and volunteer that you don’t give a lecture to youth. They learn by doing and they learn by example. They have to be able to live it and lead it themselves. No matter what activity it is in 4-H, it all goes back to the life skills they learn in the process.”

Mark received the USDA Award of Excellence back in 2000
for his work with the USDA/Army Youth Development Project.
Those life skills helped Mark build a career with the Army's Child Youth & School Services on Youth Development projects; and now as a Projects Director for the USDA at the University of Minnesota supporting grants across the U.S. In 2012, his professional and personal life came together in a way that would change the course of Mark’s 4-H experience: when his son was crowned the Minnesota 4-H Poultry Prince.

Empowering youth to lead and advocate

4-H partners with Gold’n Plump to host an annual program that names two youth as ambassadors for 4-H and the poultry industry. Youth from across Minnesota compete for the titles of Prince and Princess by demonstrating their poultry knowledge, showmanship skills and public speaking ability. Once crowned, the 4-H Poultry Prince and Princess do news interviews, parades, and promotional events. They also provide poultry education in elementary schools throughout Minnesota. It's a program that Mark fully supports, especially seeing its impact on his son, August.

“Our youth have opportunities to be the public face of something and talk to people,” commented Mark. “Being a youth representative has a lot of power and responsibility, it’s not just about the poultry, it’s about growing the youth involved.”

Mark first met his wife in grade school
at a 4-H club meeting.

Worth the investment

Balancing family, work and volunteering is important to Mark and he is careful to spend his time intentionally. 4-H is an organization that he really believes is worth investing in.

“There’s really only a little bit you need to put in to see a ton of return,” he reflected. “The product of volunteering is the impact it has on youth—you can’t put a price or value on that. 4-H is reaching thousands of lives. Volunteering with an organization like 4-H is absolutely worth it.”

Want to learn more about the Minnesota 4-H Poultry Prince & Princess Program?

Interested in volunteering like Mark?

By Mariah Jean Larson
University of Minnesota student
Steele County 4-H alum

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