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Difference Engines
by Nina Linton

Tom Stewart (photo: Nina Linton)Tom Stewart leads photography group at North River 4-H Club

When Tom Stewart dropped his young daughter off for her first 4-H meeting he had no idea that eleven years later he would remain the one involved, sharing his skills with youth while enriching the local community.

Initially jotting his name down next to hers, Stewart enlisted as a volunteer leader at their local 4-H club, becoming one of over 300 leaders across the province teaching more than 600 young people life skills and leadership.

“Once I got into the 4-H program I found I really enjoy its emphasis on learning to do by doing. I thought that was great. We can always use some additional skills in terms of making that a reality,” says Stewart.

A part of the Island’s social fabric since 1918, 4-H empowers young people between the ages of nine and 21 to reach their full potential, learning and working under the guidance of volunteers while still having fun.

The youth development organization—despite its common perception as being only for children raised on farms—provides diverse learning opportunities to young Islanders of many backgrounds, offering youth the opportunity to explore over 50 areas of interest including sewing, rocketry, scrapbooking, small engines, cooking, outdoor exploration, computers, woodworking and finances.

Stewart’s local 4-H club gave the self- taught photographer a chance to pass on his passion for pictures from behind the lens.

He aims to help his photography project members become comfortable with their cameras and enthusiastic about the possibilities in photography, and is often impressed with the results the kids produce.

“I guess the biggest thing I get from it is seeing the members involved with their projects … you will really reach someone and they will understand it and you can just see that switch turn on,” he explains.

“You see it not just with photography but with all the projects. You see the pride in learning.”

With six students in his photography group this year, the dedicated volunteer extends his helping hand beyond this small group to the North River 4-H Club as a whole with its’ over 70 members and 20 leaders.

As editor of a monthly newsletter, he ensures everyone is up to date on news, awards, events, and fundraising activities while putting his own photography skills to use documenting many of the club’s activities with his camera. Some of these photos end up in the leaflet with many more appearing in a year ending slideshow celebrating the members’ achievements.

The 4-H program, with a focus on community, encourages members and leaders like Stewart to not only work on personal development but wide scale initiatives that benefit the citizenry, like collecting donations for local food banks or fundraising for local charities.

With no plans to step down from his post, Stewart enjoys the challenge and growth afforded not only to the young people he works with but also to himself through their involvement in 4-H.

“I enjoy it. I feel I am contributing and from a volunteer perspective that is something that is important.”

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