AMES, Iowa – “Zeller, Zeller, Pumpkin Seller” read one newspaper headline. “To an Iowa angel” read a thank-you from Hurricane Katrina victims, and “Free Will Donation Pumpkins for Sale” read her signs. Carla Zeller may have never kept a dime from her 4-H project, but it’s evident from the numerous newspaper articles, pictures, thank-you notes and project write-ups that the impact made on her and others has reached far beyond monetary value.
In five years, the former Kossuth County 4-H’er has raised more than $4,000 for various charities and a scholarship fund by growing and selling pumpkins -- only to give away 100 percent of the proceeds. Zeller started the seemingly easy 4-H project in 2005 at her mother’s suggestion by growing pumpkins and selling them in front of her parent’s NAPA store. It wasn’t long, however, before the simple idea became much larger.
Raising Money to Help Others
“When I first started the project, it was just another 4-H project. When I got the thank-you note from the Mike Shillington family it was more than a project. It was the pleasure of giving something to someone who had lost everything and helping them start over,” said Zeller, who donated the first year’s proceeds to the former Bancroft residents who had lost their home in Hurricane Katrina only weeks prior to pumpkin season.
Touched by their thank you and the impact her project had already made, Zeller applied for and received the Violet Richardson Award, which recognizes young women between 14 and 17 years of age who demonstrate outstanding service in their communities and schools. The award granted her an additional $250 for the Shillington family and $250 for herself, as she began making plans to continue the project.
Her second year she sold pumpkins in front of Kmart and the NAPA store and decided to give the proceeds to Hospice of the Heartland because they had helped her great-uncle Bernard in his battle with cancer. The next year she gave to Relay for Life after experiencing her sister Emily’s battle with pre-cancerous cervical cells, and in 2008, her earnings sponsored the fees for two children to go to Camp Hertko Hollow, a camp for children fighting diabetes.
“Carla loves sports, yet she made 4-H a high priority, and I am amazed and proud of the fact that she took this on as a freshman rather than just trying to find an easy project to do for fair,” said Jean Kent, county 4-H youth coordinator with Iowa State University Extension in Kossuth County. “Her willingness to continue the project says a lot about her, especially this past year. She was struggling to find someone to take it over, and despite being in college, she still completed one more year and was still willing to give the money away while paying for her own freshman year at ISU.”
Not to be stopped by high school graduation in May 2009, Zeller continued her project as she headed off to college in August while looking for someone else to take over. With more than $1,000 raised, Zeller created two $500 college scholarships to give out to a senior from her high school and the other through the county 4-H program, Now this spring she will hand it over to Kossuth Connections, a youth organization designed to keep kids from drugs and alcohol, and her family is still willing to donate the land for the project to continue to help others.
Making a Difference through 4-H
Making a difference and encouraging others, however, is what the Iowa State University freshman truly values. As awareness and publicity about her project increased, she had more and more people asking who she would give the money to next and sharing stories about how they and their family had been affected by the charity of choice at the time. A bank also bought them for kindergarten and first grade classrooms in the area, and some gave without taking.
“My fourth year was special because I actually had people come up and donate to the camp without taking a pumpkin. This made me feel as if what I was trying to do had reached the point where the community could just give money with nothing in return, which was exactly what I was doing,” she said. “I felt that I had made an impression on charities and also on my community.”
In addition to citizenship, Zeller was involved in the food and nutrition, dairy goat, communications and bucket bottle 4-H project areas and received state recognition for many of her projects. She also served on both area and county 4-H councils and helped with Ricochet, a leadership program designed for intermediate 4-H’ers.
Not only did she learn about the work it took to complete her 4-H projects such as storing pumpkin seeds, tilling, planting, watering, weeding, harvesting, advertising and selling her pumpkins, Zeller also grew personally in a lot of ways through 4-H.
“I learned how to be more of an adult with responsibility, how to be a role model to kids and explaining that through service,” she said. “I also grew emotionally stronger by learning how to do something by myself without my parents.”
“From decision making to leadership to citizenship, selling pumpkins all the way around grew the life skills that 4-H is famous for,” added Kent. “Carla was able to show learning every year, and overall that will make her a better person.”
About the Iowa 4-H Youth Development Program
4-H is the nation’s largest youth development organization, serving more than 6 million young people across America with programs in leadership, citizenship, communication and life skills. One in five Iowa school-age youth are involved in 4-H. In Iowa, 4-H Youth Development is headquartered at the Iowa State University campus in Ames. 4-H is supported by federal, state and county funding, private grants and donations, and fees. For more information about joining 4-H, contact your Iowa State University Extension county office at www.extension.iastate.edu/content/county-offices/ or visit www.extension.iastate.edu/4H.
Hannah McCulloh, Extension Communications and External Relations, (515) 294-9915, firstname.lastname@example.org
Laura Sternweis, Extension Communications and External Relations, (515) 294-0775, email@example.com