Mikayla Ockels earns Delaware 4-H Diamond Clover Award

L to R: Mark Isaacs, Rep. Steve Smyk, Rich Ockels, Mikayla Ockels, Cindy Ockels, Rep. Harvey Kenton, Ernie Lopez
L to R: Mark Isaacs, Rep. Steve Smyk, Rich Ockels, Mikayla Ockels, Cindy Ockels, Rep. Harvey Kenton, and Ernie Lopez. Photo by Michele Walfred

On September 27, 2014 during a gathering at the 2014 Sussex County 4-H Achievement Banquet, Sussex County 4-H member Mikayla Ockels, 16, is the third statewide recipient of the Delaware 4-H Diamond Clover Award, the highest honor a 4-H member can earn. The 4-H Diamond Clover Award is Delaware 4-H’s formal acknowledgment of Ockels’ achievement to make a significant difference in her community and state.

Ockels is a member of the Harbor Lights 4-H  Club and resides in Milton, Del. with her parents Rich and Cindy Ockels.

Delaware 4-H has long acknowledged excellence with blue ribbons, trophies, project pins and has awarded many scholarships to its 4-H members. The Diamond 4-H Clover Award is the capstone recognition to honor members who demonstrate extraordinary, sustained and focused service learning in their community. Ockels project implemented a goat herd management plan, part of what she envisions as a larger plan for Sussex Central High School’s teaching farm located in Georgetown.

The 4-H Diamond Clover Award is considered the equivalent of the Boy Scout Eagle or Girl Scout Gold Award.

“As with the Eagle, a very small number of members achieve this ultimate level of recognition,” said Dan Tabler a 4-H educator who conceived the award. The Delaware 4-H Foundation sponsored the award for the First State.

To attain the Diamond Clover Award, a 4-H member must first progress through five stages. Upon completion, each stage is marked with a gemstone award designation – amethyst, aquamarine, ruby, sapphire, emerald and diamond. “The sixth level requires the 4-H member to propose a major community service project that must be approved by a local Diamond Clover Committee and the state 4-H project leader,” said Tabler. Completing the final level typically takes one to two years, Tabler said. Tabler worked closely with Delaware 4-H Project Leader Mark Manno to bring the award to the First State.

Ockels’ project – shepherding a team for long-term goat care

Ockels reviewed her plan with several advisors at Sussex Central High School
Ockels reviewed her plan with several advisors, here shown with Karen Oliphant who worked with Mikayla to formulate plans, collect data at Sussex Central High School. Submitted photo.

Ockels, currently a junior at Sussex Central High School, designed and facilitated a plan to care and manage goat herds housed at the school’s teaching farm. Caring for goats, as it turns out, came naturally to Ockels. Goats are part of the family’s 8-acre homestead, which also includes horses and beehives and other animals and crops the family has developed to create a self-sustaining environment.

During her freshman year, Ockels arrived at school a little earlier than most students – riding with her mother Cindy  who serves as a school nurse.  During the extra time before the school bell rang, Ockels could often be found at the farm, checking in on the animals.

“The farm was a great resource for students, but I saw some areas that could be improved,” Ockels shared. The challenge, Ockels found, was clearing a plan with school administrators,teachers and students, all with different opinions, and implement the plan in such a way so that it would be sustainable for students in the future. Ockels met with school administration and worked closely to formulate plans, collect data and create communication with the Ag Science department at Sussex Central High School.

Ockels, with procedures in hand, checks on the goats at Sussex Central's teaching farm
Ockels, with procedures in hand, checks on the goats at Sussex Central’s teaching farm

Ockels developed an application process from which she selected five students to help implement her goat herd management plan, and her team quickly grew to a staff of 15 student volunteers. “This team shared responsibilities such as feeding, hoof care, medication and cleaning,” Ockels said. She taught them how to communicate and keep on track with a schedule of needed duties.

“My project taught me so many life lessons, lessons such as communication skills, time management, determination and problem solving, ” she added.

In crediting her team, Ockels also acknowledged the leadership of her 4-H advisors, and one in particular Mark Manno, Delaware 4-H project leader who died on Sept. 13.

“Mr. Mark Manno was an inspiration, a great leader, and a brilliant advisor to me as I was forming ideas from my project,” Ockels told the audience.  “His ideas helped make my project the success that it is.”

Looking ahead, Ockels sees her project expanding and continuing to impact the Sussex Central High School community and beyond. In “creating a place where students can learn about responsibility and explore career options,” Ockels is excited by the legacy her 4-H Diamond Clover project will serve for others to continue and build upon. “The power of a service project is the ability to move a body of people into action, and watch the benefits in the community,” Ockels said. “The Diamond Clover project is no longer mine alone. It belongs to the people that will help carry the project on.”

Article by Michele Walfred