Agri Leader

4-H plays a big role in Danny Weeks' life

Danny Weeks doesn't work in agriculture. In fact, he's the director of facilities for Hardee County, supervising 33 staff members, overseeing all the county parks, providing maintenance for county buildings and even running the sound system during Pioneer Park Days. But Weeks has a second "job" that's more a labor of love - he is president of the Cloverleaf Foundation. "The Cloverleaf Foundation is an organization that raises funds to support 4-H here in Hardee County," Weeks explained. The organization's name was changed a little over a year ago from the 4-H Foundation to the Cloverleaf Foundation for tax purposes. While the 4-H youth development program run through the county extension office is partially funded by the county, those funds go towards paying the salaries of 4-H agents and other line items, but don't pay for things like trophies or the annual banquet held every year to congratulate the kids on their accomplishments.
About 15 years ago, Weeks was approached by the local 4-H agent, Mary Weeks, who told him the 4-H foundation was in place, but wasn't active. She needed some willing volunteers to get it started again. Weeks and Dennis Crews took on the challenge. Fundraising was done in a number of ways. First, Weeks sought and won the financial and community support of Mosaic, a large local company making phosphate and potash crop nutrients. Then they began planning fundraising events. Now the non-profit organization brings in approximately $15,000 a year for the 4-H program, helping kids to do everything from raise and show an animal to grow a vegetable garden, learn to sew, or even dabble in robotics. As a leadership organization, 4-H also teaches public speaking and other leadership skills. Some of the funds raised also go to scholarships for 4-H students. Last year the foundation gave out $1,000 to four 4-H students who applied. So far, they have not turned away an applicant, said Weeks, and his goal is to quadruple the scholarships to $4,000 per recipient - $1,000 a year for four years. How do they raise the money? These days there are many ways. They host an annual fundraising barbecue serving pulled pork, ribs, chicken and prime rib. Weeks not only helps organize it, but cooks, too. The foundation also runs a popular food booth at the fair each year. In fact, their food is so good, they actually cater events as a fundraiser. They have catered the Teacher of the Year banquet for the past two years, the Farm Bureau Dinner, the Range Cattle Station Dinner and the Kiwanis Skeet Shoot. The Cloverleaf Foundation also has one 4-H child raise a steer each year which is auctioned off at the fair. The proceeds go to the foundation. This year, the board chose Weeks' 15-year-old daughter, Danielle. Weeks, who grew up in Lemon Grove in Hardee County and has lived here all his life, was a 4-H kid and knows the value of the program. "I was in a horse club growing up in 4-H," the son of a carpenter and a beautician recalled. "We didn't have a farm, but I grew up in the country." Weeks' three children have all participated in 4-H, including now 26-year-old Ryan, 15-year-old Danielle, and 13-year-old Elizabeth. Ryan showed pigs and did public speaking, even making it to the state level. When their girls were old enough, Weeks and his wife, Jacqueline, started a 4-H club called the River Rats. At its height, they had about 25 members. Last year, Hardee County had eight 4-H clubs with 245 members, according to interim extension director Carolyn Wyatt. Next year, they will be adding a fishing club, and the Weekses plan to obtain the necessary certifications to open a shooting club the following year. What's the best part of moonlighting in agriculture via the Cloverleaf Foundation? "I enjoy the kids," said this Sunday School teacher at New Hope Baptist Church. "4-H is not strictly about agriculture. There's life lessons learned," Weeks said. He added, 4-H is for everyone.