Last week Bunny and I were discussing the dilemma high school and college graduates face with the high unemployment rate and so many people looking for work. His final comment was that young adults wanting a good job need to prepare for the real world every way they can. As I considered his remark, I remembered several youth I worked with in the 4-H Program. There were individuals, like Whitney White from Hemingway, who later graduated from Davidson College and had the honor of serving as President of her Senior Class at Davidson. Then there was Cheryl Brown who I met through Sister Suzanne and is now a nurse and the mother of three. But, the person I want to highlight is my friend Heather Johnson, who presently is a Senior Food Scientist with Kraft Foods in New Jersey.
I met Heather when she joined the 4-H Program around the age of 10 because she simply loved to bake. Heather attended her first State Bread’s workshop and competition a few weeks later and won first place in the junior division with her demonstration and bread baking skills. From that point on Heather Johnson became a serious contender for 4-H Foods Competitions in South Carolina and in the southern region of the United States. As I think back, Heather not only had a great gift in food related areas, but she also had a determination to succeed and to be successful.
Through the next 8 years as Heather’s skills developed, she moved from just participating in programs to instructing young people at camps, workshops, and during State Fair events. For instance during the Kids in the Kitchen Camp at Bob Cooper, Heather accepted an opportunity for several years to teach 6 classes a day, for 4 days, to 80 or more campers. She was so proficient in food preparation that she could demonstrate any recipe from simple quick breads to homemade pasta. It did not matter what the procedure was, she could do anything. Besides being talented, Heather was very friendly and soon knew people all over South Carolina. In addition, she was respected and liked by my Extension friends and eventually became part of the traveling 4-H Foods Team. In the tenth grade Heather’s 4-H Record Book won first place in Breads at State 4-H Congress, giving her the opportunity to attend National 4-H Congress and to compete for other awards and scholarships. Heather was never offered an opportunity for a competition, a volunteer event, or a workshop that she did not eagerly accept. Being an exceptional young woman Heather always looked for a chance to compete, teach, or serve. After high school Heather applied to several schools with well known food science programs and eventually ended up at Clemson University. Because of her involvement in 4-H, my young friend was comfortable as a freshman on the Clemson Campus and was already familiar with many students and professors. Over the next 6 years Heather received her Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree from Clemson University in Food, Nutrition, and Culinary Science. While working on her master’s degree, she was employed by Clemson’s world famous Ice Cream Department and actually developed a new ice cream flavor that was sold on campus. After graduating, Heather was offered a job with Kraft Foods and began working in product design with Planters Nuts. One of her first major projects was converting Planters Nuts from regular salt to sea salt. Presently Heather is working for Nabisco which is also a division of the Kraft Food Company. Her current projects include Ritz Premiums, Graham Crackers, and Honey Wheat Ritz where additional whole grains are being added to the crackers. She is also working on a test market with Premium Saltines, and said they were doing some “neat” things with saltines. Heather Johnson took her love of food and a gift for food preparation and turned it into a career she loves in product development at a nationally known food company. Heather began preparing for the real world at an early age and is now reaping the benefits of her dedication and hard work. She is living her dream.
On my desk is a copy of the book; Teenagers preparing for the real world, by Chad Foster which includes the following: “The real world will be here before you know it. Hopefully, you understand what success is and what it takes to succeed. The real world is not as tough as it sounds. In fact, its pretty cool, if you come prepared for it. To make a long story short, give these a try: find your passion, buy an address book and fill it up, meet all kinds of people, ask a million questions, stay in touch with everyone, read everything you can, uncover your natural talents, try a few jobs before college, dream and pursue your dreams, always do the right thing, volunteer for community service, and finally, remember, success is a journey, not a destination.” Even without realizing it, at the young age of 10, Heather Johnson began preparing for the real world as she developed her passion, dreams, and talents. It’s a great story, and I love to share it.