COUDERSPORT — For the past 32 years, Showstoppers 4-H Club has given Potter County youths the opportunity to engage in a 4-H club that allows them to complete animal projects, along with projects that don’t necessarily have to do with animals.

Sheila Gabreski has led the club for the past 16 years; Krista Doran, Theresa Denhoff and Kim Kio assist with leading the club. The club consists of 35 members — 30 4-H members, ages eight-18 and five Cloverbuds, ages five-seven — and has historically been an animal club.

“We also try to encourage the kids to branch out and do things other than animals,” Gabreski said. Of the 35 members, all but three do an animal project. In the past, Showstoppers members have done cake decorating, archery, sewing and gardening.

“A lot of people think of 4-H as an animal-based program, but it’s not. 4-H has over 60 different projects available and 80% are actually non-animal,” Gabreski said. “We have all sorts of things, from gardening to rocketry to sewing to computer science.”

A lot of the Showstoppers animal projects center around horses, pigs, sheep, rabbits and goats. Members can do a market project or a pet project.

“They raise (animals), but they don’t all sell them at the fair,” Gabreski said. They can do a market project, where the animal is raised as a “business animal.” The animal is purchased at the beginning of the year and the members feed and raise the animal specifically for the market. They bring it to the fair and sell it at the Friday night livestock auction.

“A lot of times they’ll raise them and not want to sell them,” Gabreski said. They might take it home, breed it and raise a litter of pigs, for example.

“Some of the kids look at their animals as pets, so they don’t want to see them and have them go to slaughter,” Gabreski said.

When the members have an animal project, they have to keep a record of everything they do for each animal in the program.

The record books involve keeping track of expenses, documenting anything they learned and showing why they enjoy the project through pictures and answering questions.

“The kids are learning a lot about animal husbandry and record keeping at the same time,” Gabreski said. “It’s their responsibility to fill out the books themselves.”

“Interaction with animals builds responsibility and self-discipline that kids don’t always get from other opportunities,” Gabreski said.

Beyond the projects, members do at least four community service activities every year that tie in with the 4-H motto, “head, heart, hands and health.” Gabreski said just in the past year, the club has served meals at the American Legion Veterans Thanksgiving dinner, cleaned and planted gardens at Sweden Valley Manor, purchased Christmas gifts for children in need, collected donations for Teacher’s Pet Rescue, assisted the American Legion with old flag disposal on Flag Day and helped Potter County Veterinary Clinic during a rabies clinics.

The club also provides pony rides at the Falling Leaves and Maple festivals to raise money for activities and expenses.

A goal of the club is to promote public speaking. It holds a public speaking demo where the members can build self confidence and improve speaking skills. They also have small public speaking activities during the meetings.

“I always get compliments from the school because they can usually tell the kids who are in 4-H because their (public speaking) skills are stronger,” Gabreski said.

Gabreski said they often have guests attend the club meetings to teach members new skills and to discuss community news.

“We try to get the kids involved in learning a new area that they might not know,” Gabreski said.

This past year, Janice Darrah, the owner of Sew Much More in Coudersport, taught the students how to sew a button and repair rips or tears in clothing. Kara Gochnauer of the Pennsylvania Department of Health came to talk about lyme disease and ticks, Gabreski said. Mark Fair of the Pennsylvania Game Commission and Toni Scigliano, a certified farrier, also came to meetings.

“Our goal really is for the kids to come in and learn. We want them to learn to public speak themselves, but also to hear from other adults and learn new things,” Gabreski said.

To join the club or 4-H, call Penn State Extension-Potter County at 814-274-8540 or email Toby Neal, Potter County 4-H Extension educator, at tjn5065@psu.edu. Showstoppers is one of 15 4-H clubs in the county; for more information on those clubs, visit https://extension.psu.edu/programs/4-h/counties/potter/clubs.