In his 10 years in 4-H, Ben Kaster has pretty much done it all.

He’s raised livestock projects, performed in Share the Fun, built farm equipment and learned how to be an effective public speaker.

Some could say that his time spent in 4-H will be its own reward, arguing that his experiences have taught him valuable lessons that will pay off handsomely in the future.

However, as he recently found out, his time in 4-H is going to pay off much sooner.

Literally.

Kaster found out that he has been awarded one of nine state 4-H scholarships sponsored by the San Antonio Livestock Exposition, an award worth $12,000.

The son of Bill and Madonna Kaster, Ben will attend Tarleton State University in the fall where he anticipates studying biological chemistry.

A member of the Midlothian 4-H Club and a home-school graduate, Ben said his favorite activity in 4-H “by far, would have to be method demonstration.”

Method demonstration, he tells, is essentially public speaking in which participants use tools such as PowerPoint presentations.

Aside from being his favorite project, Ben said method demonstration was also the most beneficial activity for him, noting that it is a skill he will be able to use in his future in the science field.

Ben is one of four Ellis County 4-H members to receive a Texas 4-H and Youth Development Program Opportunity Scholarship this year. Joining him as recipients were Katelyn Tonick of Red Oak, Erica Lastufka of Cedar Hill and Austin Jackson of Milford.

The recipient of the Richard Wallrath Education Foundation Scholarship, Katelyn is the daughter of Steve and Lisa Tonick and will attend Texas A&M University in the fall.

Undecided on her major, she said she would like to work with children.

A 4-H’er for seven years and president of the Tejas 4-H Club, Katelyn has been involved in several activities, including photography, textiles, equine, and food and nutrition. She focused many of her efforts in the latter, which enabled her to serve on the state food board and as the state food ambassador.

Food and nutrition is her favorite area of 4-H, Katelyn said, noting she also competed on the Nutrition Quiz Bowl team, which placed ninth in the state this year.

However, while food and nutrition may be her favorite area, Katelyn said the public speaking training was the most beneficial for her.

“I used to be incredibly shy,” she said, adding that her participation in 4-H helped her learn by undertaking and completing projects. It has also helped her find good friends, she said.

Katelyn’s scholarship is valued at $10,000.

Earning one of only two Bill Piehl Leadership Scholarships for Texas 4-H’ers, Erica Lastufka will attend Rice University in the fall, where she anticipates double majoring in astrophysics and international relations.

The daughter of Michael and Chewlan Lastufka, Erica’s 4-H career focused primarily on technology-related projects.

A member of the state technology team and the Spring Lake 4-H Club, Erica said that of her 4-H activities, the science and technology project was the most beneficial, as it combined independent research and competition into a single experience.

Erica, whose scholarship is valued at $5,000, also gives credit to the 4-H public speaking program as another beneficial activity for her in the organization.

Like the other three scholarship recipients, Austin Jackson of Milford was home-schooled and graduated this May.

He has been awarded the Smith-Dompier Scholarship, which he will put toward his education at San Antonio College this fall.

A member of the Tejas 4-H Club, Austin is the son of Mark and Cam Jackson.

During his nine years in 4-H, Austin was involved in numerous activities, focusing on small animals, photography, and food and nutrition.

Of these, photography was his favorite project, but like his fellow recipients, he said public speaking was probably the most beneficial.

Austin’s scholarship is valued at $1,500.

Each of the recipients’ activities during his or her 4-H career played a major role in earning the scholarships, as did their academic records. Made possible by the donations and participation of numerous companies and corporations, the scholarship program is a project of Texas 4-H and Youth Development Program, the Texas 4-H Youth Development Foundation and the Texas Cooperative Extension.

“These kids have put a lot of hard work into this,” Ellis County 4-H agent Page Bishop said. “They really deserve everything they’ve gotten from this program.”

“I’m amazed at the number of scholarships and the amount of money these kids got,” Ellis County family and consumer science agent Rita Hodges said. “I’ve worked in other counties, and quite often, they don’t have any scholarship recipients.

“This is a huge deal,” she said.