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When people think of 4-H Club, the common misconception is that it is all about animals and farms. While agriculture and farming do play a part, the youth mentorship and development organization is about so much more. Regardless of interest or passion, there is a place for every young person in 4-H because the entire mission is to provide youth with the knowledge, skills and attitudes to make the best, better. This 120-year-old program has a strong presence in Arkansas and is led by amazing people who are committed to the youth of this state.
4‑H programs are grounded in the belief that youth learn best by doing; leaders aim to make each individual better by helping them dive deep and develop skills. Every year 4-H members complete hands-on projects in areas such as science, health, agriculture and citizenship, where they are encouraged to take on proactive leadership roles.
4-H is America’s largest youth development organization, with nearly 6 million young people involved across the nation. The single letter representing the name reminds students of their responsibility: pledging their head to clearer thinking, their heart to greater loyalty, their hands to larger service, and their health to better living for club, community, country and world.
Approximately 133,000 young people participate in the Arkansas 4-H program, where they receive help from people dedicated to empowering them with the skills they need to lead for a lifetime. The University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture Extension Service is behind all of the different hands-on learning experiences and opportunities. The people who work for the extension service have a heart for the mission and are committed to making Arkansas 4-H beneficial for all who join.
An example of how 4-H-ers across the state can dive deep into their interest is their big individual project. Each year 4-H students pick a major individual year project and work to develop their knowledge and skills in that area over the year. The creativity and possibilities are endless. Projects can fall under categories including healthy living, civic engagement, science, technology, engineering, math and agriculture. At the end of the year they compile their works into a final project and prepare it to turn in to the state in the form of a record book to be judged. As a result, each student is pushed and developed throughout the year with a lot of encouragement and guidance.
These big projects are where individual interests and passions can really shine.
The broad and diverse opportunities provided by Arkansas’s 4-H center in Little Rock include contests, adventure camps, field trips, leadership workshops, cake decorating classes, backpacking classes and crafts. Participants have a chance to enter livestock judging contests, parliamentary procedure contests and quiz bowls.
The list truly is endless.
The contests woven throughout the year give students a chance to compete in different areas.
I had all of my children participate in a recent dairy-cooking contest in White County, along with a crowd of young chefs excited about the opportunity. The experience pulled my children out of their comfort zones, where they had to complete the project while reading and following directions on their own.
The next competition we will be preparing for is the Talks & Demos contest coming up in April. All students who enter must prepare a speech to present before a panel. Participants as young as age 5 and through age 19 will participate.
Taking 4-H to the local level is a real treasure in Arkansas communities. Each club has its own personality. Livestock, shooting sports and equine clubs are a few examples of the special interests available. There are also clubs for members of varied ages and interests.
Recently our White County club, which consists mostly of 10-year-olds, voted to do a community service project by cooking meals for the Mission Machine, a nonprofit organization that serves the homeless in White County. The youth in our group are continually being encouraged to see a need and act, a great skill to take them into adulthood.
Kim Harrison is a former 4-H’er and has volunteered in Arkansas 4-H for over 28 years. She has the experience and history to have witnessed firsthand how valuable the program is.
“4-H is so versatile. It’s not just animals and cooking. It’s healthy living, electronics, arts and humanities and community issues. There is science, technology, engineering, and math in every area plus so much more. I have watched so many young people start out shy, not so sure of themselves and in just a few short years, they are so self-confident and willing to share their knowledge, talent and interest with others. I know 4-H is the best learning experience a youth can be a part of.”
Find a 4-H club near you to get started.
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Four of my grandchildren are active in the Elm Springs 4-H. I have been amazed and impressed with the variety of learning offered.
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