MAKING A DIFFERENCE
Who ever thinks about what goes into making a regular event better?
It doesn't take newcomers long to learn about the 4-H Radio Auction, the annual event that is the sole fundraiser for the county youth
Signs adorn merchants' windows. Promotional spots appear in newspapers and on radio. Chances are good that someone will ask you at some point in January, February or early March if you want to make a donation or help out.
It's all for the kids.
But over the past five years, the 4-H Radio Auction has gotten better. You can check the items up for auction on your computer. This year there may even be pictures and more updates of what is still open to bidding during the March 18 and 19 auction.
Bidders are learning more quickly whether they have a top bid on any of the hundreds of items, from vacation trips and loads of topsoil to plates full of home-baked cookies, gift certificates, baskets of cosmetics, engine tune-ups and yard-cleanups.
Every year the whole operation runs more smoothly, in large part thanks to Elaine La Rochelle.
The Elgin woman is one of those behind-the-scenes people making a big difference.
And not just at the 4-H Radio Auction, but at the Eastern Oregon Livestock Show, the Union County Fair and at Grande Ronde Hospital.
"She's saved us a lot of time," says Union County 4-H Extension Agent Carole Smith. "Her computer skills ..."
La Rochelle has been able to transform an existing database program provided for the Oregon Extension Service one that was barely used into a system that volunteers can operate to make all sorts of time-saving and value-added tools.
Ten years ago, every 4-H member's project had to be entered into the lists for the county fair by the club leaders by hand weeks in advance. The process involved writing out long codes of numbers by hand for every child.
Thanks to La Rochelle, club leaders can now enter the 4-H members and their projects on a computer. This saves both the leader and the 4-H office staff hours of time in putting together the fair premium book.
La Rochelle contributed similar assistance for the 4-H and FFA entries at the Eastern Oregon Livestock Show, and is working with the Union County Fair to improve the entry system and judging results at that event, too.
"I started out as a horse leader," La Rochelle explains as she takes a break from her computer duties at Grande Ronde Hospital and finds a bench in a quiet corner to talk. She also worked with livestock, having been an active 4-H member herself as a child.
About four years ago, she says, she saw she could help in other ways, using her workplace skills in a new manner.
She said the local 4-H office "had the software here, but no one knew how to use it."
La Rochelle sat down and figured it out, and then starting shaping it to the needs of the Union County 4-H program.
She had already managed the 4-H horse show, so she knew the details of what entries, classes and record-keeping needed to be available and accessible.
As it became clear that she was making the mountains of paperwork for 4-H events more manageable, things started to happen.
Steve Clements and others at Eastern Oregon University helped her get the 4-H Radio Auction information on the Internet, and improvements have followed every year.
This year work is being done to add more thumbnail photographs of the items available for bid.
"There are a lot of hours behind this," La Rochelle admits. But she adds quickly that her work is shrinking as the skills of those working in the 4-H office grow.
When she started working with the software, the radio auction consumed at least 40 hours of her time to get ready before the event, the stock show nearly 80 hours followed by long days at the 4-H office during the week-long show. "I live at the shock show," La Rochelle says with a laugh.
And yes, she has vivid memories of the first year the software with her changes was put in place. The coding, she says, was a mess.
Wearing jeans, La Rochelle looks more like an olderr 4-H member than the computer techie she is.
This isn't quite what she had foreseen for herself. She went to high school in Idaho and ended up in the Air Force providing technical support.
She had planned on studying engineering.
But then she moved to northern Union County, got some animals and found herself wanting to get involved.
While her own children were never in 4-H, La Rochelle still decided to turn to the activity that had given her plenty to do when she was growing up.
"I volunteered to be a leader," she says simply.
Now she has job offers from the manufacturer of the software program that she turned into a vital 4-H tool.
Counties throughout Oregon and the Spokane Junior Livestock Show in Washington are seeking her out for help.
And next week, La Rochelle and Carole Smith, along with other county 4-H Ambassadors and leaders, will head to the Western Regional Leaders Forum in Salt Lake City to present their basic computer program used in a new way. "We're going to teach this program down there," Smith says.
That first year, La Rochelle admits, her evaluation of the program was direct. "This program sucks," she remembers thinking.
But she took it as a challenge. In a few more weeks, 4-H Radio Auction participants will see and appreciate the results.