The Sandy Mush 4-H Club of Buncombe County, N.C., was founded in 1978 and originally led by Sandra Reeves, wife of former County Extension Director Kenneth Reeves. The club has served the area well and now hosts 46 members ranging in age from 9-18, with an even split of girls and boys.
John Gavin sits as the club’s shooting sports leader. “I am the parent of four children involved with the 4-H program, a state-certified shooting sports coach and a proud U.S. citizen who strongly believes in protecting the Second Amendment,” explained John.“I served as a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne Division and was wounded in combat in Iraq in October 2003. After leaving the military in 2005 (honorably discharged, Purple Heart veteran), I knew I wanted to continue to serve my community and country as a civilian. In 2014 my wife and I learned that our local 4-H club, the Sandy Mush 4-H Club, was always looking for youth participants and parent volunteers, and we quickly saw and experienced the value that this group brings to our youth. Our club participates in a wide-ranging set of activities, and the kids learn by doing. I very much enjoy teaching the 4-H youth, and my own kids who are shooters on the team, about firearm safety and good sportsmanship as well as rifle and pistol marksmanship.”
The goal of the 4-H program is total youth development by exposing kids to many different activities in a positive environment. A very important part of the Sandy Mush 4-H Club is the shooting sports program. John claims the club has some of the nation’s best shooters, but, more importantly, the youth have a deep understanding of firearms safety and good sportsmanship. The team regularly meets once a week in the evenings at their club range and twice a week as they approach a shooting sports tournament. “Our shooters will shoot thousands of .22 rimfire rounds throughout the season," John noted. "Trigger time and repetition help make our shooters some of the best in the nation."
“We want to raise good kids who can take care of themselves and begin their adult lives with confidence," John continued. "We want our children to understand the importance of supporting the Second Amendment. We want our youth to understand the value of helping others by experiencing it firsthand. Of course it wouldn’t bother us, as parents, if our kids received a shooting sports scholarship to a college or university!"
“In North Carolina, 4-H clubs have an opportunity to compete in a regional tournament, the NC state tournament, and then finally the national 4-H tournament. This is not a sport where everybody gets a trophy,” John emphasized. “The youth competitors must shoot expertly and score well to advance in the tournament. The Sandy Mush 4-H club is fortunate to send many shooters to the NC state tournament each year, and then send a smaller contingent to the national tournament with the state team to compete in rimfire rifle and pistol, as well as archery.”
In 2017, the North Carolina 4-H rifle and pistol team that competed in the national tournament won first place—two of the team members were from the Sandy Mush 4-H club.
In three years, Sandy Mush 4-H has received more than $6,500 in grant merchandise, including just over $1,700 this year alone, from The NRA Foundation. “I learned about the NRA Foundation grant program in 2015 and immediately thought this would be a good fit," John said. "The assistance of ammunition and shooting supplies allow kids that otherwise would not be able to participate in the Sandy Mush 4-H Club. We shoot a lot, and the grant ammunition allows us to take our shooters to the next skill level by practicing weekly—sometimes even twice a week. Many parents of students in our club and I support Friends of NRA. We want our kids involved with an NRA program to help secure the future of freedom.”
There are more than 74 local families involved with the Sandy Mush 4-H club and more than 100 youths participate in the many events offered. The club is primarily an agricultural, livestock and shooting sports club, but its members also attend 4-H dances, make presentations, and host and participate in community events like the Western North Carolina Friends of NRA banquet. The banquet is held each February in Asheville, and Sandy Mush 4-H club members volunteer their time to help set-up.
Thankfully, John Gavin doesn’t have to manage all of this alone. Club leader Jackie Gillespie is on hand to help. “The Sandy Mush 4-H club leader is key in pulling these events together," John explained. "Jackie Gillespie inspires the kids and parent volunteers to not just attend a Memorial Day ceremony and Veterans Day ceremony, but to sponsor, plan and implement our own ceremony for the benefit of our community. We parents take care of the larger details such as reserving space at our community center, and the 4-H’ers take it from there. We have a program that involves songs sung by the kids, and we also invite a local veteran to speak. The entire community of Leicester, N.C., is invited to attend, and the events are always packed and standing room only. Veterans in attendance are recognized individually during the Veterans Day ceremony, and local fallen service members are recognized in the Memorial Day Ceremony with surviving family members often in attendance. As a combat wounded veteran, I am thankful and impressed with our youth that take the time to participate in these events. I am very glad my kids are learning traditional values of our nation just like I did."
The 4-H club is a great program for youth and parents alike. Teaching kids responsibility, discipline and pride in accomplishment is a very good thing, according to John. And the parents agree. “100 percent of the parents let me know throughout the season that our shooting sports program helps inspire their kids to greater discipline and instills a real sense of accomplishment," John noted. "Together, the parent volunteers and I coach the youth club members in shooting fundamentals, so they all improve. The confidence they gain here carries overs to academics, sports and social engagement, which we think is very important.”
Local clubs like the Sandy Mush 4-H club are always looking for parent volunteers. Follow John’s great example and become a leader for the youth in your community today! To learn more about the NRA Foundation grant program, click here. To find a Friends of NRA event near you and support fundraising for programs like this one, visit friendsofnra.org/Events.