|navigate: home: magazine: fall 1999: article|
Touching the lives of 166,500 Pennsylvania youths
By Celena E. Kusch
|Throughout the Commonwealth, 4-H programs serve more than 166,500 youth between the ages of 8 and 19, and almost 123,500 enroll as 4-H members. Of them, more than 1,000 go on to become 4-H volunteer leaders while still teens, and many continue to participate as adults in the ranks of the nearly 12,000 volunteer leaders statewide.|
In Delaware County, the fourth most populous county in Pennsylvania, few families have the space to participate in the traditional 4-H arena of agriculture. As a result,4-H educators have adapted programs to accommodate an urban environment, while working to keep the agrarian focus alive. Retired 4-H coordinator and now 4-H volunteer C.R. Bud Bryan Jr. initiated innovative projects to reintroduce agricultural skills and values to an urban area, including indoor gardening and cooperative farming. This year, the 51 members of the Agriculture Club are enrolled in 110 projects, and more than 100 are part of a 4-H horse and pony club.
Through the generosity of the Garrett Williamson Foundation, 4-H runs a 10-acre cooperative farm where urban children share the care of farm animals, making the trip to the 4-H farm with their parents a few times a week. The children then show their animals at 4-H livestock shows and sell the animals at auction, taking home the profits along with new skills and a sense of accomplishment.
In addition, these animals are part of an agricultural literacy program in the Delaware County schools. In the past school year, 799 students used 4-H resources in the classroom to apply their science lessons to agriculture; then they made a trip to the farm to see, smell and touch the animals first-hand. An additional 706 children, many preschool age, visited the farm project as an enrichment field trip.
Debbie Davis, 4-H volunteer leader and parent of two 4-H members, said, Ours is an increasingly technological world. As we approach a new millennium, its especially important to preserve our agricultural heritage. Thanks to the vision of Bud Bryan and the generosity of the Garrett Williamson Foundation, the farm experience is alive and well. For our family, involvement in 4-H means much more than performing weekly farm animal project chores, attending monthly project or ag club meetings or participating in annual fairs. It has indeed become a central part of our family life.
According to Joyce Morrison, Delaware County extension director, this approach seems to be working for the almost 7,000 4-H members countywide, giving Delaware County one of the largest 4-H enrollments in the state.
4-H is a youth development education program of Penn State Cooperative Extension, designed to help young people become self-directed, productive and contributing members of a diverse society. In support of this mission, 4-H programs use research-based knowledge and the land-grant university system to provide formal and nonformal community-focused experiential learning that develops skills that benefit youth throughout life.
Young people need positive role models, guidance, social acceptance and educational opportunities, said Dr. Marilyn Corbin, Penn State Cooperative Extension and Outreach state program leader for children, youth and families. But most of all, they need the kind of hope that will help them aspire to become the best they can be. With a proven track record of a high success ratio to the small dollars invested, 4-H has the answer. 4-H, the youth development program of Cooperative Extension, is nationally recognized as one of the foremost youth organizations in the country. With a strong local program that draws on the strengths of a statewide and nationwide organization, 4-H is uniquely positioned to help youth in this complex information age.
With its roots in early 20th century rural youth programming, 4-H has grown to meet the needs of modern families in both rural and urban areas without forgetting its strong ties to agricultural science and communities. In fact, 56,000 or nearly half of all 4-H members come from farms or towns with fewer than 10,000 people.
Rick Kauffman, Berks County extension agent and 4-H coordinator, has been involved with 4-H for 21 years. Reflecting on the evolution of 4-H over that time, he commented, Today, we are regarded as a key player in youth development in our counties. Weve made a conscientious effort to branch out to meet community needs while our curriculum of top-quality, hands-on programs has remained consistent. With that kind of history and responsiveness, people have seen how valuable 4-H can be for all kids.
Projects like the urban farming cooperatives that bring youth together across differences in region, lifestyle and culture have become one of the most successful new areas of 4-H programming. Dr. Patreese Ingram, assistant professor of diversity education, explained, 4-H aims to help prepare our young people to live productively in our society. Relating to people of different backgrounds and cultures will be crucial both in the workplace and in the community.
Debbie Wilhelm, a 4-Her and sophomore majoring in agricultural business management at Penn States University Park campus, concurs. With 4-H, theres something for everyone. For example, I went to the Southwest Regional 4-H camp for six years as a camper and four as a counselor where I really learned responsibility. The camps do so much for everyone involved. They introduce city kids to agriculture, build supervisory skills in the counselors and teach all the campers about an educational theme, including the environment, international awareness of agriculture. And, of course, the camps are really fun.
As 4-H programming has expanded to include a variety of projects such as building rockets out of soda bottles and training puppies to be guide dogs, 4-H coordinators around the state have also seen a resurgence of interest in traditional ones. Last year, Jefferson County had a 25-percent increase in livestock animals exhibited. All together programs relating to plants, animals and agricultural applications of biological sciences reached nearly 75,000 youth statewide, through such activities as clubs, fairs and in-class projects in Pennsylvania schools.
Throughout the Commonwealth, high-quality 4-H educational resources have made a difference in the classroom. Kauffman believes the strength of 4-H curricula have made this kind of partnership possible and set 4-H apart from other youth organizations. The College of Agricultural Sciences has been giving us good curriculum materials since the beginning of 4-H. The quality of the curriculum is the best, and 4-H packages it to deliver that knowledge directly into Pennsylvanias communities and schools, he said.
For Corbin, University research has been central to producing these programs. 4-H is a major youth organization with direct ties to Penn States research information base, she explained. Many of the projects in which 4-Hers choose to participate are developed by faculty and staff. These projects help spark an interest in learning and discovery. Team the University support with a strong network of trained volunteers who believe in the aspirations and dreams of our youth and the result is a winning combination for our families and communities.
Suzanne Boarts, youth development coordinator for Armstrong County and an extension agent, has served in a variety of youth organizations. She compared the work of 4-H with that of the other groups.
4-H programs arent just about helping kids have fun and hoping they learn something in the process, Boarts said. 4-H programs deal with real education and real life. From livestock and forestry to science and leadership, the programs have depth and develop important skills that will play a role in the students everyday lives. In the livestock programs, for example, they interact directly with the animals, learning how to care for them. Or they learn about responsibility by going out to a farm to see and share in the work. Or they engage in a forestry program that teaches them about trees and their necessity in our lives.
Joann Logan, Westmoreland County extension agent for 4-H and youth development, agreed. We build self-worth by getting our members to create something and accomplish their goals. We contribute to their self-worth by helping them to develop and practice skills so they feel like they can contribute to the world around them. Thats what makes the 4-H mission so effective.
Community involvement, Logan added, is also crucial to 4-H program success. 4-H is very family-oriented, she remarked, and offers an avenue for parents to be involved with the young people, whether that means building rockets together, grooming pets, raising hogs or doing photography. The bulk of the 4-H volunteers are parents who really make a commitment to be involved for the long-term.
Volunteerism is both a tenet of the 4-H mission and a guiding force behind the programming. According to Corbin, 4-H volunteer leaders serve as educators, mentors, positive role models and friends to thousands of young people throughout the state. On average, each volunteer donates more than 200 hours of time annually.
By devoting their time and talent, Corbin said, volunteers share a strong belief in the blossoming of each child into a responsible and productive person. Volunteers are essential to the success of 4-H. Each year, nearly 12,000 Pennsylvania adult and teen volunteers are recruited and trained in program delivery. 4-H provides the framework for helping children aspire to work toward their goals.
4-H leaders and agents agree, from dairy farming to investment strategies, hydroponics to rocket science, 4-H programs prepare members to meet the future.
Whether its serving as a club officer, presiding over a meeting, sharing a skill with a fellow 4-Her, working as a teen leader, serving as a spokesperson for 4-H or working as part of a team, every 4-Her is given the opportunity to develop leadership skillsa success that translates into youth who learn to manage relationships, make decisions, improve communication skills, gain self-confidence and the satisfaction of participating as part of a group, Corbin noted. Thats no small feat when the competition often is countless hours sitting in front of a television, playing computer games or hanging out at the mall for hours, or even worse, on the streets.
Amy Thomas, 4-Her and high school student from McKean County, credits 4-H with giving her the confidence to start an eight-year trek to being a chiropractor. 4-H gave me a sense of myself. I started figuring out what was important to me. Offices I held in my club taught me skills that other kids didnt have in high school when I was on the student council, she explained. I gained confidence in what I could do.
Traditional 4-H programs dealing with livestock and horses attract children like Thomas to the program, where they learn skills and make contacts that will help them no matter how unconventional their lives become.
Logan explained, 4-H is a combination of life skills development and subject matter learning. The outcomes of those projects appear in the success of 4-H members. For example, one of the Westmoreland County 4-H textile science members now serves as the clothing curator at the Smithsonian Institution. Many of our animal science members have gone into equine training and education fields. Three of the former 4-H members from this county have taken positions in extension offices across Pennsylvania. 4-H puts people into careers.
We also move people into leadership positionsrunning for public office, leading church and community organizations or joining the school board, Logan added. A recent survey of all the CEOs of Fortune 500 companies found that the only common thread they all shared was a membership in either 4-H or scouts. 4-H helps members develop the ability to set and achieve goals and to stick to those goals.
For Wilhelm, 4-H has led her to success at Penn State. 4-H has offered me a lot of opportunities. It introduced me to Penn State when I was in middle school, through programs like the 4-H competitions held on the University Park campus.
Kauffman has seen 4-H raise awareness of the University time and time again. 4-H reaches 5,000 kids in Berks County alone, so we have a great ability to help Penn State become increasingly engaged in communities, he said.
Pointing to the connections between University goals and 4-H practices, Ingram added, Penn State is a land-grant university whose mission is to serve the everyday grassroots needs of the community. 4-H reaches the future citizens and leaders of Pennsylvania in ways that generate success for everyone involved.
Dr. Theodore R. Alter, associate vice president for outreach and director of Cooperative Extension, explained, I often talk about 4-H as being the flagship youth development program for Penn State Cooperative Extension. Over time, 4-H has proven its positive impact on the personal and professional development of young people who go on to become productive members of their communities. At Penn State, we are committed to strengthening, enhancing and expanding 4-H programming in Pennsylvania and increasing our programmatic support for this very important children and youth development initiative. We want to ensure that future generations of young Pennsylvanians enjoy this meaningful youth experience long into the 21st century.
Pennsylvania 4-H volunteer leader Anna Mickey Peters of Pennsylvania Furnace, a 4-H volunteer since 1965, received the Friend of Extension Award from Epsilon Sigma Phi, a national honorary extension fraternity, at the groups annual conference in Annapolis, Md., in 1997. The annual award recognizes outstanding support and personal involvement in extension efforts by individuals who are not directly employed by extension.
When asked why she has made this strong commitment to 4-H, Peters replied, I find it very heartwarming to see young individuals mature in the 4-H program by taking on projects. I can see them develop responsibility and leadership as they progress through the programs. They grow into self-confident and caring young adults who then go out into their own communities to make a contribution.