The Bethlehem Busy Stitchers 4-H club is very fortunate to have Elaine Brodeur as their club leader. Elaine’s daughter will tell you that Elaine needs 4-H as an excuse to own eight sewing machines and a stash of fabric and sewing supplies to rival any JOANN store. But Elaine goes on to explain, “I love to sew and share my skills with young people especially since it is not taught in schools anymore.” She joined 4-H at the age of 10 and has maintained her connection with 4-H for the past 65 years. As a youth, her project focus was clothing. She attended 4-H camp for several years at the Litchfield County 4-H Camp (what is now Warren Woods) and Junior Leadership conferences that were held at the UConn Storrs campus.
Elaine adds, “At that time we had county dress reviews and the best senior members were chosen to attend the state dress review. Winners from there went to National 4-H Congress. I was in the state review several times. I never went out of state…the competition was pretty tough then.”
Elaine gets her commitment to 4-H from her mother, Bernice Assard, who passed away in 2008. Bernice became the club leader of the Bethlehem Busy Stitchers back in 1956. During Bernice’s 50 years as club leader hundreds of youth benefitted from her instruction and guidance with many also participating in statewide activities and national trips such as Citizenship Washington Focus and National 4-H Congress. In 2002 Bernice was inducted into the National 4-H Hall of Fame during its inaugural year.
While the club’s projects focus on sewing and home economics, they have always participated in community service projects. In the past the club has sold soup at the Christmastown Festival, marched in the Memorial Day Parade and made hand warmers for the Woodbury Senior Center. The club also made lunches to serve the workers who volunteered to rebuild the local community hall after it burned back in the 1980s. More recently they have sewn and donated over 300 tote bags to a local women’s shelter which in turn fills the bags with much needed supplies for the residents. They have been participating in this project for the past eleven years.
With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the club has been sewing face masks for local nursing homes. This has turned into a major community effort in which the club has donated enormous time and effort in assisting the Caring for Bethlehem organization, a local non-profit charity that provides food and relief assistance to the surrounding community.
Elaine took over leadership of the club from her mother in 2006 and keeps club members busy with a variety of activities. She spends a great deal of time during the summer helping club members get their sewing, craft and cooking projects ready for the 4-H Fair held each year in August. She is also the coordinator of the Textile Arts Contest for 4-H Expressive Arts day and serves on the planning committee for this event.
When asked why she has stayed involved with 4-H for so many years, she replies, “To some extent I feel obligated to carry on my mother’s legacy. 4-H was very important to her. 4-H provides a structure for opportunities to practice many life skills in a low-risk environment like project planning, meeting deadlines, interviewing, public speaking, following instructions, record keeping and teamwork. I could not do it without the help of Jen Woodward my assistant or the help of the member’s parents.”
Article by Nancy Wilhelm, State 4-H Program Coordinator