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The 4-H Factor

From in-school enrichment and out-of-school activities, clubs to camps, 4-H programs are inspiring children to have fun, learn, grow, and do more.

Jennifer Zehnder
December 28, 2018

It’s early morning and the Burton sisters — Katie, Kenzie, Grace and Brianna — of Stilwell, Okla., are busy with morning chores. A barn full of dairy goats, assorted cattle, meat chickens and a collection of colorful rabbits wait their respective turn as the foursome milk, feed, water, and take care of their charges. Just west of town, their Patterson cousins — Hagen, Jonah and Samuel — work through their livestock duties before they, too, head to school. That evening, after homework and chores, the children gather at their local 4-H Club where they catch up with friends, review projects with 4-H leaders and volunteers, and talk about upcoming competitions from speech and demonstrations to the food showdown and livestock skillathon.

It makes for a busy life, says Jennifer Patterson, the boys’ mother, but a 4-H life is one that matters.

“4-H teaches vital life skills to our youth which builds a solid foundation for their futures. It opens doors to many opportunities that might not have been available if not actively involved in 4-H,” she explains. “It takes a youth’s specific likes and interests and helps them set goals for a career doing what they love to do. It also demonstrates the importance of teamwork and community involvement.”

Patterson and her sister-in-law, Yalonda Burton, the girls’ mother, know a little about doing what you love. Both proud 4-H alumnae, Patterson serves as the Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension Educator (AG/4-H) for Adair County, whereas Burton is a large and small animal veterinarian.

More than a century ago, 4-H was born from the idea of practical, “hands-on” learning to connect public school education to rural life. Identified by its green cloverleaf emblem which features a white H on each leaf, the 4-H name represents the nonprofit’s four development areas — head, heart, hands and health. Today, the nation’s largest youth development organization continues its “learn-by-doing” philosophy, growing confident young people who are empowered for life today and their future careers tomorrow.

And while livestock and agriculture projects are still popular, current 4-H programming also includes a wide array of opportunities in science technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), healthy living and civic engagement.

“4-H has grown and evolved with our changing world,” shares Burton. “It’s added new workshops and activities, as well as contests to involve more of today’s youth who all have different lifestyles and capabilities. Anyone from any demographic can be involved in 4-H and find a niche that works for them.” 

A volunteer-led organization associated with the United States Department of Agriculture, 4-H is open to youth ages 8-18 through local 4-H clubs, camps and school programs. 4-H Cloverbud programs are geared toward ages 5-7. Programs are delivered through a community of 3,500 4-H professionals and 500,000 adult and youth volunteers working in cooperation with more than 100 public institutions and the cooperative extension system. Youth decide which projects they want to learn more about and 4-H community members provide them with mentoring and career readiness support. Hands-on experiences teach subject matter and life skills, including cooperation, leadership and decision-making — all which can be applied throughout their lives.

“People often think 4-H is just about grade school children and livestock — it’s not. There is so much more,” asserts Patterson. “Youth can stay active members in 4-H throughout their entire high school career. There are endless opportunities — scholarships, district/state/international trips and competitions to name a few. Our family plans on taking full advantage of those.

“I love 4-H because it involves the whole family. There is something for all to do together. You never stop learning. Our 4-H family is one we will cherish for a lifetime.”

For more information about 4-H, programs or to find your local club, visit 4-h.org.  

4-H By The Numbers

Membership is comprised of nearly 6M participants:

  • 1.8M urban
  • 1.6M suburban
  • 2.6M rural
  • 36 percent minority youth
  • 25M alumni and growing

Annual Youth Participation Includes:

  • 5.6M in STEM projects
  • 2.7M in healthy living projects
  • 3.1M in agriculture projects

2017 4-H Annual Report

Five Survival Tips for 4-H Parents

1. Do not wait until the week due for the yearly record books. With our advanced technology, books can be updated easily on a computer.

2. Time management is key. Pick a few project areas to focus on. It can be overwhelming if you try to do everything at once.

3. Communicate. If you are unsure of how something is managed just ask. That is what your extension agents, 4-H leaders/volunteers and club members are for. If they don’t know the answer, they will help you find it.

4. Get involved. Want to know exactly what your child is doing? Become a certified 4-H leader. 4-H never has enough volunteers. This way you can mold your club into what works for you and your youth.

5. Enjoy the time with your children. Every experience is a life lesson. Your child is not going to win everything. Sometimes parents get so focused on winning that they forget children are supposed to have fun, too.

Jennifer Patterson, OSU cooperative extension educator (AG/4-H) for Adair County