4-H Shooting Sports teaches teen character and generosity

A young boy next to a 4-H flag.
Taivon Collins, Mississippi 4-H'er

Quitman native Taivon Collins learned an important life lesson when he broke his gun during a 4-H shooting sports competition.

“If life gives you lemons,” he says, “you get a new .22 rifle.”

He was finishing up his third year participating in 4-H shooting sports, though it was his first competing with a rifle. The day before the 2013 district competition, Taivon broke the firing pin on the county-owned gun he was using.

“Another 4-H’er let me borrow her .22 for district,” he remembers. “I was slightly nervous about shooting a gun I had never shot before, but the whole week before I broke my .22, I was shooting really good.”

However, when Taivon arrived at the 4-H district competition, he realized the gun he’d borrowed was completely different from the one he broke. The size, the weight, and the action were different, but that wasn’t the worst part.

The scope was mounted crooked.

Taivon’s shots were way off the mark, and his standing was awful.

Clarke County Extension agent Christy King was there to support Taivon, and she told him he did pretty well, considering he was shooting with a crooked scope for the first time. Plus, she and Taivon’s grandmother, Catherine Collins, had talked and were planning to get him a .22 of his own.

Taivon discovered that 4-H leadership, volunteers, and supporters could enhance his inborn humor, determination, and optimism.

And he concluded, when times get tough, sometimes the tough get a new rifle.

Overcoming obstacles

Before King joined Extension, she taught fourth grade in Quitman. That’s where she first met Taivon. She got to know him and his family well because his physical obstacles created unique classroom challenges.

Without his glasses, Taivon is legally blind, and, without his hearing aid, he’s almost deaf. To compensate, he wears glasses and lip-reads masterfully, King says.

Taivon grew up in town with his brothers and sisters and his grandmother Catherine, known to most in the community as Granny.

“I already knew from teaching him in fourth grade that Taivon had hearing and vision problems, and I always had a close relationship with Granny,” King explains. “When he wanted to do shooting sports in 4-H, we already knew he was blind, so we started him with an air pistol.

“But because there were only one or two people competing in the same shooting category, he would win. Then one day, he looked at us and said, ‘Let me try the .22 rifle.’”

Taivon said he lives in an area where the sound of gunshots usually means trouble, but participating in 4-H shooting sports has changed his opinion about firearms.

“I have learned the most from 4-H shooting sports,” he says. “I have learned that I can take something that was once a negative influence in my life and use it for good and that guns aren’t bad when they are used with discipline and responsibility.

“And I have learned that, with discipline and responsibility, my personal possibilities are endless.”

King explains that 4-H showed Taivon more of the world than he had ever before experienced. But 4-H also taught Taivon more about the people right in his own backyard.

“Everything I’ve done in 4-H—going to State Congress, going to National Congress—I wouldn’t have been able to do it without community support,” he says. “People give but don’t want anything in return. They just want you to thank them.”

“Sometimes, it’s hard to take it, even when it’s something you need. But what I’ve learned in 4-H is, you can always take pride in accepting stuff when you need it.”

Memorable moments

During the summer of 2014, Taivon was determined to win a national 4-H trip.

If he could win first with his record book, he could go to National 4-H Congress. Likewise, with a top ranking in the 4-H Shooting Sports State Invitational, he could compete in the 4-H Shooting Sports National Championships.

“I knew if I could get first place in something, I’d be going to nationals,” Taivon explains. “But I got second place in record books. I got second place in shooting sports. I knew I wasn’t going to nationals, so I thought, ‘Next time, I’ll try harder.’ Then I went home.”

A few days later, Taivon received a mysterious yellow envelope in the mail. It was a congratulatory letter from Extension’s 4-H Youth Development stating that he had been selected for a once-in-a-lifetime trip to 4-H National Congress.

“The first-place winner in 4-H shooting sports had won the free trip last year, and you can only win once,” Taivon says. “I was going to nationals.”

Though the trip expenses were covered, Taivon didn’t have the appropriate apparel to participate.

So, naturally, he started asking his grandmother for money to buy clothes. She wasn’t sure how she would be able to afford nice new clothes for Taivon.

However, a 4-H volunteer team headed by King’s husband sponsored a community drive to help Taivon get exactly what he needed to fit in with the other teens at the national conference.

“Taivon was in band, and my husband Chris was the former band director in Quitman and an active 4-H shooting sports volunteer leader, so he is still active in Taivon’s life. Chris posted on Facebook to ask people to donate,” King explains. “People started asking what Taivon needed, and, within 48 hours, Chris had raised $1,500.”

A news anchor from Meridian donated luggage, and a Sunday School class bought Taivon a sport coat. JC Penney donated a button-up shirt and tie. King took Taivon to Old Navy to buy shirts, sweater vests, and slacks, and, when the manager found out about the community support for Taivon, he insisted 15 percent be discounted from the total and $100 deducted from the final price.

“Then, Mayor Eddie Fulton said, ‘You and 4-H are changing this boy’s life.’ And I said, ‘No, Taivon is doing it,’” King remembers. “I told the mayor that Taivon was going to need a cellphone. He’ll need to be able to talk to Granny, and all the other kids will have cellphones. So the mayor talked to C-Spire and they donated one for a week.”

Taivon was just another normal kid at National 4-H Congress. He was the Mississippi flag bearer and led the Magnolia State delegation into the assembly. He saw the sights of Atlanta and slept in the most comfortable bed he’s ever felt.

“I wish I could’ve stayed,” he says. “4-H Nationals was really fun —something I’ll remember forever.”

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MSU Extension Service
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Extension Matters Volume 1 Number 2.