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Today’s 4-H: More than meets the eye
Posted Feb. 4, 2013
By Dave Ostdiek
UNL Panhandle Research and Extension Center
Over the years, the face of Nebraska 4-H has changed, but the organization’s foundation is still helping youth prepare for a successful future and serve their communities, a University of Nebraska-Lincoln youth educator says.
4-H has evolved and changed in its 110 years to meet the current needs of youth and families, according to Annette Haas, District 4-H Coordinator for UNL’s Panhandle Extension District. For some, 4-H still means bringing livestock, clothing or other projects to county fair. But in many ways 4-H is different from what it was in the 1940s, the 1970s, or the 1910s.
“So when somebody looks at today’s 4-H, it might not look like what their 4-H was, but the foundations are the same, which is helping youth to reach their potential,” she said.
February is Nebraska 4-H Month. Throughout western Nebraska, 4-H members will be observing 4-H month by sharing messages in the news media and taking part in special events. Counties will be sponsoring public speaking contests, culminating in the district speaking contest in late April.
In the Panhandle, 2,280 youth participated in 4-H as club members in 2012. In addition, other young people participated in after-school programs, camping programs, school enrichment, short-term programs and day camps. Statewide, about 140,000 young people – 1 in 3 eligible youth – are enrolled in 4-H. About 11,000 volunteers share their time and resources.
Five primary programming areas provide the foundation and direction for Nebraska 4-H Youth Development: college and career readiness, agricultural literacy, science, healthy living, and citizenship and leadership.
“Essentially, when someone is seeing 4-H, what they’re seeing is these five areas as the foundation of what might be happening,” Haas said. “So if they’re looking at an event at the county fair, say a livestock show, it’s not just animals in a ring, but there has been some education related to the science of the animal: feed and nutrition, housing, reproductive system, digestive system.”
That, in turn, leads to learning about other areas: what the animal eats and how that feed is produced (crops); how meat enters into the food chain (economics); healthy living and food choices; and citizenship, in speaking to others about their project.
Fun and learning also combine in the Citizenship Washington Focus Trip. Several youth from the southern and northern Panhandle will attend the national focus conference in June in Washington, D.C. More than a trip of youth and mentors, it involves significant learning along the way, primarily citizenship and leadership. They prepare for their experience by understanding their culture and other cultures. They’ll also learn about state and federal government and valuable character traits.
There are more upcoming activities: On March 2 in Sidney, 4-H is teaming up with Cabelas for a Youth Adventure Day from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. The event is free for youth from kindergarten through eighth grade and includes shooting sports, animal tracks, and fishing. Summer will bring a variety of camps, such as an annual horse camp in Dawes County in June.
4-H also partners with others to create opportunities for young people. One example is a new after-school club called ESI, EntrepreneurShip Investigation. ESI clubs are being launched this spring in Scottsbluff and Mitchell for late-elementary and middle-school students. In addition to UNL Extension, partners include Western Nebraska Community College and the Scottsbluff High School DECA Club.
Haas said 4-H has changed and evolved beyond the traditional community club model or area model.
“It may be an after-school entrepreneurial group or robotics club. These changes are a result of how society changes, and how families change. We change to meet them where they’re at.”
“It may look a little different or function a little different than a club used to traditionally, but the bottom line is still focusing on youth development, safe environment, positive interaction, and preparing for future.”