Occasionally, in conversations about Utah State University Extension program offerings, people seem somewhat surprised to learn that 4-H is still around and is actually thriving in their communities. Here is an attempt to dispel some of the myths surrounding this youth development program that has been around — and still is — more than 100 years after it was first organized.
Myth: 4-H is a dying program.
Truth: 4-H is the nation’s largest youth development organization, empowering 6 million young people throughout the United States. With an additional network of 540,000 volunteers, 3,500 professionals, and more than 25 million alumni, 4-H helps shape youths to move our country and the world in unique and effective ways. In 2014, Utah 4-H reported 6,301 adult volunteers, 2,064 youth volunteers and 63,921 members. 4-H is not dying in our state.
Myth: 4-H is only for elementary-aged youth.
Truth: The age of 4-H members ranges from 8 to 18. Youth must turn 8 years old before the first of the calendar year and be in the third grade to enroll. Many youths participate through the summer following high school graduation. Youths in grades 8 to 12 are also eligible to participate in Teen Council leadership clubs. In Utah, many counties offer “Clover Bud” activities that focus on introducing youth ages 5 to 7 to various areas of 4-H.
Myth: 4-H doesn’t have much to offer to older youths.
Truth: Youths looking for opportunities to learn leadership, teach their peers as well as younger youths, or who are searching for a way to attend college will want to take a closer look at 4-H. Many 4-H teens have used their “portfolios” for competing as Sterling Scholars, attending national leadership conferences and yes, even earning 4-year scholarships to attend college.
Myth: You have to work with animals to be a part of 4-H.
Truth: While horsemanship and livestock projects are alive and well in the 4-H program, there are more than 100 4-H “projects” in areas of science and technology, citizenship and leadership, healthy living and nutrition, and mentoring.
Myth: 4-H is only for kids who live on farms.
Truth: Through America’s 110 land-grant universities and its Cooperative Extension System, 4-H reaches every corner of our nation from urban neighborhoods to suburban schoolyards to rural farming communities.
Myth: 4-H is just a series of fun activities.
Truth: 4-H is very deliberate in helping youths incorporate the four leaves of the 4-H clover. The Hs stand for Head, Heart, Hands, and Health and represent the four values members work on through fun and engaging programs. The values for each leaf include: Head — Managing and Thinking; Heart — Relating and Caring; Hands — Giving and Working; and Health — Being and Living.
Further, 4-H programs strive to incorporate the essential elements of 4-H youth development which include helping youths experience a sense of belonging, providing experiences that help youths gain skills to work independently, creating opportunities for youths to help others and serve their community by practicing generosity, and, finally, taking steps in 4-H project work to accomplish mastery in the chosen project area. Such essential elements prepare youths to become caring and contributing members of society and may lead to future careers.
If you are new to 4-H, learn how to join as a member or become a volunteer. All the information you need to get started may be found at Utah4H.org/htm/about-4-h/newto4h/. You may also visit your local USU Extension Office to find out more about your local 4-H program.
You may not have time or interest in becoming involved as a 4-H club volunteer, but opportunities to participate in specific programs throughout the year are available. If you want to help sponsor a 4-H event or club, donations of materials and supplies are always welcome.
Kathleen Riggs is the Utah State University Extension Family and Consumer Sciences Professor for Iron County. Questions or comments may be sent to email@example.com.