Mary Beth Antunes has turned a lifetime of 4-H into a family affair. The Williamson County 4-H Extension agent grew up in the Rutherford County 4-H program; and after she began dating her husband Shea, he was all in for the program too.
During her time as a 4-H youth member, Antunes participated in everything from an annual babysitter training to serving as an officer in Rutherford County’s Homeschool Pioneer Club and the 4-H Honor Club. Antunes also represented Tennessee at the 2006 National 4-H Congress in Atlanta as a state personal development project winner.
Her involvement in various projects helped her become a better communicator and work in a group.
“I learned so much about working with people who work differently than I do, listening to others who think differently than I, and respecting other people regardless of our differences,” explains Antunes. “I always found the best relationships I formed were with people I worked with on a team or service project, not people I only had fun with, and I think that is still true today.”
Antunes excitement about 4-H continued into her college years, and she helped to start a collegiate 4-H club during her time at Middle Tennessee State University. Following graduation, she went on to serve as an Extension agent in Van Buren County before accepting her current position as an agent in Williamson County.
“Shea did not know about 4-H until we started dating, but since he has been around the program and had the chance to see the positive impact it makes on youth, he has been excited to help support and volunteer,” says Antunes. “We have been a 4-H personal development project sponsor since fall 2013 and gotten involved in other sponsorship opportunities since then.
1. Where did you grow up / what 4-H club were you part of?
I grew up in Murfreesboro as a Rutherford County 4-H member. I participated in the Homeschool Pioneer Club and the Honor Club. I also became very active in 4-H All Stars in high school.
Shea grew up in Knoxville and was not part of 4-H there.
2. What 4-H activities were you involved in?
I was active as a teen leader for county events and participated in the Dairy Quiz Bowl contest once. I loved working with the annual babysitter training, serving at the summer day camp and being an officer of the Rutherford County Pioneer Club and 4-H Honor Club. I loved attending State 4-H Congress, Roundup and the regional All Star conferences. I competed with a personal development portfolio my 10th and 11th grade years and as a citizenship finalist at State 4-H Congress one year. I was on the regional All Star council as Scout my senior year and loved being involved in the 4-H All Star program.
3. What was the biggest lesson you learned from your time in 4-H?
Through 4-H, I had the opportunity to meet so many people from different counties and communities than I grew up in. I learned so much about working with people who work differently than I do, listening to others who think differently than I and respecting other people regardless of our differences. I always found that the best relationships I formed were with people I worked with on a team or service project, not people I only had fun with, and I think that is still true today.
4. What is the thing you are most proud of in your career?
I’ve been very blessed to work in two different Tennessee counties as an Extension agent. It’s amazing to work with Tennesseans, learn about their lives and families and hopefully help them make the best better along the way.
5. If you could give one piece of advice to a 4-H student, what would it be?
Take advantage of every opportunity you get in 4-H. Do the portfolio, run for the office, serve when you are asked and participate in the contests that scare you. Everything you do will help you become your best self, and you will look back and be thankful for all the times you said “yes!”
6. How has 4-H impacted your life even after you graduated from the program?
My 4-H experiences have prepared me for life in so many ways. As a child, like most people, I was scared of public speaking, but through 4-H and my parents insisting I participate in the public speaking contest, I learned skills to help me as I speak to people. I am not the best public speaker, but the experiences I had in 4-H helped me develop those skills at a young age that makes speaking in front of people today for my job much easier! I’m so thankful for the opportunities 4-H gave me and for parents who cared enough to push me to do things, like give a speech, that I never would have done on my own.
7. How are you still involved with the program and why is it so important to you all, as a couple, to continue to donate to 4-H and what message would you have for recent alumni about giving back?
During college, I continued to serve as a volunteer for Rutherford County 4-H and for regional 4-H activities. I also worked to start a collegiate 4-H club during my time at MTSU. Since graduating from MTSU, I have been a 4-H agent in Van Buren and Williamson counties, and I love that I have the opportunity daily to give back to a program that gave so much to me!
I always knew as a 4-H member that I was gifted so many opportunities because of the generosity of others. I promised myself that I would give back financially to 4-H when I was an adult, to help other youth have the amazing opportunities I had. Shea did not know about 4-H until we started dating, but since he has been around the program and had the chance to see the positive impact it makes on youth, he has been excited to help support and volunteer for 4-H. We have been a 4-H personal development project sponsor since fall 2013 and gotten involved in other sponsorship opportunities since then.
It’s so easy to be a Tennessee 4-H Foundation donor. They offer paycheck deductions so you never miss the money or forget to send it in. It is very rewarding to see that line on my pay statement each month and know that the money is going to help and reward Tennessee 4-H members who are working hard and making the world a better place.
8. Where are some interesting places you’ve been or things you’ve done thanks to opportunities provided by 4-H?
This summer I had the opportunity to travel to Washington D.C., as a chaperone for the 4-H Citizenship-Washington Focus trip. Although D.C. wasn’t new to me, I had never been to the National 4-H Center. National 4-H Council at the National 4-H Center hosts 4-H CWF and that was an amazing experience. I enjoyed spending time with other 4-H agents, leaders and high-quality teens in our nation’s capital. As a 4-H member, my favorite trip was to National 4-H Congress in Atlanta, Georgia. I had the pleasure of attending in 2006 as a personal development project winner, and it was the best 4-H trip I ever went on.