Chicken Salad for the Soul: A 4-H Mentor for Life

Kayla and Karen - Copypng

Kayla McGuire and her mentor, Karen Shirley, learn how to inspire youth
during the National Association of Extension 4-H Agents Conference.


Great mentors play an important role in helping new 4-H agents get positive starts in their jobs. The Louisiana 4-H Youth Development Mentor Program is designed to provide a professional, educational and personal support system for new 4-H professionals.

In January 2016, Karen Shirley, Winn Parish 4-H agent, was called upon to serve as a mentor to Kayla McGuire, newly hired Jackson Parish 4-H agent.

Some of their earliest mentoring sessions involved meeting for “chicken salad Thursdays” at a restaurant in Winn Parish. As their relationship evolved, so did those meetings. When Karen and Kayla are planning events or need to vent, they still make it a point to schedule “chicken salad Thursday.” Last spring, Kayla’s family dealt with a sudden tragedy when two major tornadoes hit their area. Kayla felt like her life was falling apart and the 4-H program was spinning out of control. Then, Kayla said, “Karen showed up at my office with a container of chicken salad and crackers.”

Little did Karen and Kayla know that from that first meeting, their relationship would provide support beyond the job and would go on to last a lifetime. Kayla is sharing her wealth of mentorship knowledge as she begins to mentor one of the newest 4-H faculty members in Webster Parish, Laynie Arceneaux.

Kayla and Karen talked recently about their relationship.

What benefits did you get from mentoring?

Karen: The benefits are too numerous to mention. In extension, we always say, “We are family.” I know her entire family, and she knows mine. I learned to appreciate a different perspective, a younger perspective. Even though both of our parishes are rural, they are different. We do things together, but our youth and volunteers are not all the same.

Kayla: The biggest thing I received from my mentoring relationship is having constant support from someone who is willing to invest in me. As a mentor, Karen has provided truth and trust. I am especially grateful because a lack of these valuable relationship traits can cause mentor/protege relationships to fail. She has a gentle way of pointing me back in the right direction when I slip off course.

How has your mentoring relationship affected your work?

Karen: Not only have I been impacted from this mentoring relationship, but the entire Northwest Region has benefited from the relationship of having Kayla as a coworker; she brought a wealth of knowledge and contacts with her. She is always willing to share her knowledge and expertise with others. Recently, I sent her a text about her newsletter she had posted on Facebook, “That was a really great newsletter!” The next thing I knew, she had sent me a copy in case we wanted to use it. Her audiovisual skills are second to none. Since our parishes connect, Winn and Jackson, we are continually planning joint events for our Junior Leaders or for other age groups.

Kayla: I believe that the mentoring relationship that Karen and I have has strengthened both of our 4-H programs. There are so many activities that we work on together from camps, grants and now our Junior Leaders.

What else is important about your mentoring relationship?

Karen: Even though the formal mentoring process is over, Kayla knows I am still her encourager, her biggest supporter. We all need someone in our lives to build us up, to tell us we are doing a good job.

Kayla: Looking back, I’ve realized that Karen was doing what a good mentor does. She throws you a life preserver when you are sinking and pulls you in the boat, and sometimes she rows for you when you cannot.

2/11/2020 5:26:46 PM
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