From shy to shining 4-H'er

January 22, 2003 11:00 pm

By SUNNY LOCKWOOD

Mira Santillanes at 9 was shy — painfully so — and speech problems made her even more afraid to talk.

She had moved with her parents from Livermore to Murphys at that age — in 1993. The petite, dark-haired girl didn't know anybody and wasn't eager to open conversations.

"I had a speech problem, and I was afraid to talk, because I thought I sounded dumb," she said this week, sipping tea at a restaurant.

She's 18 now — double the age of the shy Calaveras newcomer.

Her shoulder-length dark hair is tucked gently behind her ears, which reveal two tiny pierced earrings. A guardian angel pendant hangs from her neck. Her brown eyes sparkle behind black-rimmed glasses.

She still has difficulty with "r" and "sh" sounds, but they no longer hold her back. "When I get too excited, I get tongue twisted, and people can't always understand me," she says, laughing at the image.

This Mira is not afraid to speak. She gives much of the credit to

4-H, and she actively promotes the organization to anyone who will listen.

Since joining the Murphys 4-H Club in 1995, the only child of George and Debbie Santillanes has served as treasurer, secretary, president and vice president. She has raised sheep, swine and beef and won honors for everything from her 4-H journals to her perfect attendance at meetings.

"4-H helped me overcome the fear of talking in front of people," she said. "I got tired of people asking, ‘what did she say?' and worked at being more understandable. Over time, I improved through my public speaking."

Mira says 4-H also taught her responsibility. "It taught me not to be afraid to volunteer for something," she said.

And Mira has returned her energy in kind to 4-H.

Jennifer Mitchell, 4-H program coordinator for Calaveras County, said Mira is an All Star. That's the highest rank at the county level that a 4-H'er can earn. It's an honor similar to the Eagle rank in Boy Scouts.