I’ve talked a lot about the importance of youth programs here on the blog, in particular, FFA. I spent a lot of time in FFA in high school and loved every minute of it.
But this week, it’s time to focus on the other (okay, there are a lot of them, but this is one of the big ones!) ag-rooted youth development program: 4-H.
This week is National 4-H Week and 4-Hers across the country are celebrating with their clubs and on social media with the #iam4H hashtag.
All week, my Facebook and Twitter feeds have been blowing up with pictures of 4-H members — young and old — talking about what 4-H means to them.
So I thought I would join the party. Don’t worry, I promise it will be a short party.
Unlike FFA, 4-H is tailor made for kids age 5 all the way through high school. Like FFA, kids choose from a wide range of projects to manage during the year and then exhibit during their county or 4-H fair. And like FFA, you don’t have to be a farm kid to enjoy the program!
I, of course, am a farm kid, so my projects were generally livestock related. I always showed my horses and my cows at our county and state shows.
But I also took on cooking projects, too. Just ask my mom about the year of the dreaded gingerbread and its refusal rise. Let’s just say, six gingerbreads later, we finally had one that didn’t fall in the middle. And our family, grandmas, grandpas, uncles and aunts, were eating gingerbread for weeks. Yikes.
Coincidentally, I think that was the last year I had a baking project…
Still, like FFA, I had a blast in 4-H. I have fond memories of spending summer nights at the fair with my friends, winning the 4-H horse speech contest at Congress and traveling with my teammates on the Illinois 4-H horse judging team.
And, just like FFA, the life skills I picked up can’t be measured. I learned the importance of hard work, record keeping (yes, record keeping) and perseverance. And the art of graceful winning and losing.
Here in Illinois, more than 25,000 Illinois youth enroll in a year-long 4-H club each year. Illinois 4-H programs are offered to all youth ages 5-18, regardless of gender, ethnicity, social or economic status, religious beliefs, or physical or mental abilities. And 4-H programs reach a cross section of both urban and rural youth throughout all of the 102 Illinois counties — from Rockford to Cairo, and from Chicago to East St. Louis.
So, happy National 4-H Week to all those past and present 4-Hers out there! If you’ve been a part of the green, or recited that pledge (you know what it is!), we would love to see your pictures in the comments below.
For more information about 4-H, or to get involved in your local club, contact your county University of Illinois Extension Office or visit the National 4-H website or Facebook page.