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4-H provides hands-on opportunities for Bucks County youth|
By Karen L. Trimbath
| At-risk youth living in Bucks County residential facilities often feel disconnected from the world, and many of them have learning disabilities. But a program run by Penn State Cooperative Extension enables them to participate in hands-on activities like raising baby chicks, growing vegetables and taking care of horses. These activities help them and other children throughout the county to develop a stronger sense of community and an affinity for agriculture, according to Cooperative Extension officials.|
The time to provide direction for these kids is now, Robert Brown, associate extension agent, said. By providing agricultural education, we can let them try to focus on something that clicks.
The results are phenomenal with our youth, Nancy Stephenson, assistant extension agent, added. We can teach them so many things.
When Brown and Stephenson joined Cooperative Extension, they set out to develop ways to reach more Bucks County youth. Their efforts have paid off, Frederick W. Davis, regional director for the Southeast Region of Cooperative Extension and Outreach, said.
Theyve expanded programming to at-risk youth faster than anybody Ive ever seen, Davis said. They have also been successful in getting a fairly large number of volunteers to participate. This is hard to do, especially with dual-income households.
Brown works in upper Bucks County, which is primarily rural. He and his volunteers have modified traditional 4-H youth activities by scaling them down to accommodate the schedule of residential facilities. Resident youth often stay at these facilities for six to eight months, so activities must be completed within that time frame.
This expanded programming reaches out to youth, many of whom are minorities, who have been neglected by their families and placed in residential facilities. The outside activities provided by Cooperative Extension and 4-H give kids a chance to interact and have fun.
For instance, participating youth attend the Middletown Grange Fair and the Pennsylvania Farm Show in Harrisburg. They also can take care of horses and sheep and learn other skills, including weaving, spinning and knitting.
Stephenson works in lower Bucks County, which is primarily urban. She has developed programming for minority and low-income youth through community clubs that teach computer skills, reading, leadership and responsibility.
She also works with three Seeing Eye Puppy clubs, in which children raise and train puppies for the blind. At summer camps run through community centers, Stephenson shows children a newborn calf and discusses dairy nutrition. Other topics include household and environmental recycling and water conservation and purification.
I cant imagine not having done this, Stephenson said. Bob and I get wonderful cooperation from the county, our volunteers and Cooperative Extension.
Volunteers Melissa Reilly and Jennifer Magli believe the program has changed the childrens lives.
Its an absolutely fabulous program that provides structure for these kids, said Reilly, a program volunteer who uses animal therapy to draw children out of their shells. Its a multicultural way to open the door to group activities.
Her involvement with the program ranges from the Big Red Scarf Club, which introduces youth to weaving, spinning, knitting and the care of sheep, to 4-H clubs that introduce life skills development through community service and animal education.
The children she works with have participated in a 4-H summer camp, where they worked on projects, such as beekeeping and raising chickens and vegetables. Reilly created lesson plans based on books provided by Brown.
Every day after breakfast, the kids would visit the coop and get the freshly laid eggs. They took care of the chickens, Reilly remembers. These kids lacked nurturing, but they love giving it. Its incredible how much they want to give.
Magli works with at-risk youth through animal therapy at the Bethanna Childrens Home. She uses horses to teach responsibility to children with biobehavioral problems. In 2001, the Buffalo Soldiers 4-H Club was formed at the home, and today 47 children are members. They have participated in horse day camps and have shown their vegetables at the county fair.
Magli points out that the majority of these children come from the inner city, and they like the opportunity to immerse themselves in a rural environment.
Many have never seen a chicken or a cow and dont know that carrots come from the ground, she added. Its a good lesson for them to take care of horses, make compost and grow their own vegetables. 4-H is a great resource for these projects.
Cooperative Extension provides support through educational materials, donations and volunteers.
Brown noted that 4-H agents throughout the state can initiate similar programs that stimulate the minds of at-risk youth and provide a possible career path.
These facilities exist everywhere, he said. Its also part of life experiences we all enjoy. Thirty years from now, if they work in a high-rise in Philadelphia, theyll remember that they once planted potatoes.