Community Profile: Mentoring Garfield County youth for future success
Deb and Dieter Martin offer encouragement rather than criticism as 4-H judges
In the north hall at the Garfield County Fairgrounds, the air bristles with nerves and excitement as kids prepare to present their project display boards, notes and booklets to the judges. It’s the week of the Garfield County Fair and one that youth from across the county have been working towards for many months.
A handful of judges who will critique and make the ultimate ribbon decision wait at tables for kids to present their project. Two of those judges are the Martins.
Deb and Dieter Martin have been judging 4-H general projects for the fair since 2006. They look forward to it every year and have judged everything from cake decorating to pocket pets to entomology.
“My favorite to judge is the pocket pets. … I really get a kick out of what they think they can put in their pockets,” Deb said.
Pocket pets can range from hamsters and guinea pigs to tarantulas and even scorpions.
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“They have to actually put it in their pocket, so that’s pretty entertaining, too,” Deb said.
This year Dieter is judging model rocketry, gardening, woodworking and entomology while Deb is judging cake decorating, general projects and food.
Because of their broad experience, the Martins often help out with whatever is left over once judging selections are made.
“I think we are like the cleanup crew,” Dieter said.
Love for the program
For Deb, a child who lived in Glenwood Springs off and on throughout her childhood, 4-H is something she grew up doing. She took part in a number of projects ranging from food preservation to sewing and crocheting from third grade until seventh grade.
“I liked that it teaches leadership skills, teaches how to work with others and gives you pride in yourself,” Deb said. “ It helps you find what you’re good at, what your gifts are and how you can use those for the best benefit in your life.”
Dieter grew up in the Front Range enclave of Englewood and wasn’t exposed to 4-H life until he was an adult.
“I was a city kid, and we never had 4-H as far as I knew, but I wish we did now that I’ve been involved with it as an adult, because it’s so enriching for the kids,” Dieter said. “Getting them out of their shell and getting them involved in things they really like … this is the stuff you don’t learn in school.”
The joys of judging
The Martins find joy in interacting with the kids and watching them progress and excel year after year.
“We’re old enough to be their grandparents and in some cases their great-grandparents, so it’s just cute,” Deb said.
A lot of the judging process is more about working with the kids, helping them sort through challenges and problem-solve to figure out what they could have done differently.
“I’ve had the same kids year after year, so you can see them progress. … A lot of this is helping the kids work through a project, because it never works out the way you planned,” Dieter said. “The most important thing, I think, is not the birdhouse or the project itself, it’s about getting the kid to actually make the birdhouse and plan in advance and learn what they are supposed to learn.”
Each category is completely different when it comes to judging, but the idea for every judge is not so much to point out mistakes but to point out what was done well.
“We go easier on the first- or second-year students, but once they are in high school or have done this three or four years, we are more picky and make them go through the interview like the real thing,” Dieter said.
Judges offer students the opportunity to be interviewed during the process. Although the interview portion does not go towards their grade or ribbon, it is an opportunity for kids to get real-life experience for the future.
Students have a booklet they must fill out and in some cases create a display board demonstrating what they did and learned throughout the project. The book generally counts for a quarter of the grade or score and the display board or the project itself counts for the remainder.
“What we do as judges is review the book with them and see that they’ve done the work they’ve been asked to do and have them tell us about the experience they had doing that,” Deb said. “A lot of it is quite simple because it’s pretty much, ‘Did they do all of the work they were supposed to do?’”
Last year’s pandemic fair
The fair looked very different last year due to the pandemic and presented a challenge for everyone involved. Livestock shows and sales were done online, and general projects were displayed at the fairgrounds, but the kids were not present for the interviews.
“It was very sad, we just had their project and their book,” Deb said. “It’s much better when you can have the child there and ask them questions and see their pride in their work. It’s supposed to be about them, not about the project.”
This year they are particularly looking forward to seeing the kids and getting back to doing in-person interviews.
“I recognize a few kids over the years who have just excelled. They have a really well-filled-out book, and they follow all the rules, and they have a nicely done project,” Dieter said. “You can tell they are going to be successful kids and successful adults.”
Visual Journalist Chelsea Self can be reached at 970-384-9108 or email@example.com.
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