The first year and a half of Amanda Rau’s tenure as Clinton County’s Iowa State University Extension Office’s youth coordinator hasn’t been typical.
She says without the help of countless volunteers and extension office workers, her indoctrination into Clinton County’s agriculture community wouldn’t have been as smooth.
Rau started her position in July 2019, right as the fair was winding down.
“First and foremost, I just had to survive,” said Rau, a graduate of Starmont High School in rural Buchanan County, near Independence. “I was here about half of the fair. It was a little terrifying.”
She credits the extension office’s summer staff — seasonal workers who help organize the office’s summer program including the fair — with seeing her through.
The county youth and 4-H coordinator’s primary responsibility is to oversee the planning and implementation of all 4-H youth activities in the county. She supports participants of all ages and focuses on retention, recruiting, and providing 4-H participants with outlets to pursue their passions.
After the 2019 fair, she brushed off the dust and set her sights on the 2020 fair, which was certain to be a smoother ride … and then the pandemic set in.
“This year has been very weird,” Rau said.
Leading up to the 2020 Clinton County Fair and Club Show, the pandemic forced Rau to augment her plans. Many of the events that make 4-H what it is — club meetings, classroom activities, and even the annual weekend basketball tournament —fell victim to the virus.
Deadlines were moving targets, and health and safety protocols sent by the state conflicted with those recommended by state 4-H organizers.
But, yet again, she relied on volunteers and fair superintendents — in addition to fair board members — to help her formulate what this year’s fair would look like.
“We leaned on volunteers to determine things,” Rau said. “They would bring me details on running the swine show, for example, and then we’d adapt it to fit the (state’s) guidance.
“And it worked.”
New to the area
Before starting her position, Rau hadn’t been to Clinton County.
Fresh out of school at Iowa State, she was working as an intern in the Jones County extension office when DeWitt Central FFA Advisor and agricultural science teacher Amy Grantz notified her of the opening.
Her husband, Tanner, was starting a job as a flight instructor at the Clinton Regional Airport, so the fit seemed perfect.
“This is my first big-kid job out of high school,” she said. “I love the extension’s mission for serving all Iowans. I like focusing on kids, but I also get to do family programming like market healthy eating, or work with the master gardeners.”
Not being from Clinton County, Rau has made an effort to become engrained in the area’s 4-H community. Her first priority was gaining trust.
She said turnover in staff and dissatisfaction with some previous workers in the office had led to a violation of that trust.
“A lot of volunteers were very upset and that trust got violated,” she said. “We’re here to help. Part of my job is to be here and help people be successful as a club leader or a club member.”
She entered the market without setting too many goals; she wanted to learn about the area first. But now that she’s been here, she’s identified some other areas of improvement.
She’s working to establish a 4-H club in the Clinton and Camanche area, which doesn’t have any right now. She said any Clinton 4-Hers usually latch on to the Goose Lake groups.
This fall she’s connecting with students — a prospect made cumbersome by the pandemic and its various rules and social distancing requirements.
“We have a strong program — over 400 K-12 members, which is a lot,” she said. “So, I’m focused on finding how we can best support the members we have.”
She’s also just starting to go back into classrooms and, naturally, she’s focusing on the Clinton area utilizing funds from a 21st Century Grant.
“I bring activities (to club meetings) so we can connect and explain who I am,” she said. “That’s why (the extension is) here, we’re here as a resource. If you have a 4-H member who’s interested in rockets, and I have a rocket launcher, I’m going to bring it.”
Intro to ag
Rau’s venture into the ag and 4-H world began thanks in part to her older sister, Kristi. They were fortunate to be the right age when their local 4-H club, the Madison Mixers of Buchanan County, started a Clover Kids club.
“We were all in it,” she said. “It was just the thing you did.”
As she grew, she discovered her passion for the youth county council, which was responsible for helping the county youth coordinators in various roles, including organizing ribbons for the county fair.
She and Kristi showed meat goats at the fair — the first ones to do it in Buchanan County. Rau also enjoyed photography and food/nutrition projects.
She experience led to a desire to join the ag communications profession. She attended Iowa State for marketing and public relations, and then dipped her toe in the teaching waters before settling on an ag communications degree.
“I think this is the perfect fit,” she said. “I can make marketing flyers and do advertising but also be in the classroom and teach. I love high schoolers but I love the Clover Kids, too. It’s so fun to watch them learn new things.”