Olivia McClure | 1/27/2017 8:14:14 PM
4-H is often called one of the best-kept secrets when it comes to youth development programs.
The organization has been around for more than 100 years, and many people associate it with its agricultural roots. But 4-H Clubs and activities offer a wide range of activities – from robotics and fashion to cooking and shooting sports – that appeal to many different interests. With that come numerous opportunities for young people to develop leadership skills.
4-H Grows, a new nationwide campaign, is striving to make more people aware of those benefits.
“The message is that 4-H grows life skills, and 4-H helps lead people to workforce development,” said Janet Fox, LSU AgCenter 4-H Youth Development department head. “It might be those soft skills that 4-H’ers learn. It might be that they discover a passion that ultimately leads them to a career.”
The idea of the promotional campaign comes from the many things that 4-H “grows,” like leadership, service to others and specific skills. 4-H allows young people to explore areas they’re interested in or care about in settings that bring about other advantages, Fox said.
“When I tell people I participated in 4-H, they always ask, ‘like showing cows?’ But 4-H is so much more than just growing farmers,” said Hailey Johnson, president of Collegiate 4-H at LSU and a former state 4-H president. “It’s about growing leaders, professionals, artists and more. 4-H grows the confidence needed to speak up in any situation, from crowded college auditoriums to job interviews. As a 4-H alumna, I attribute my confidence and my communication skills to the 4-H program.”
Many 4-H programs, like camps and 4-H University contests, bring together students from around the state, which can teach them many lessons – teamwork, communication and appreciating diversity. At the same time, 4-H’ers must learn to make decisions on their own and be good examples to their peers.
Another major aspect of 4-H is engaging with the community. Clubs frequently do service projects, which encourage students to be aware of others’ needs and step up to help them, Fox said.
In addition to traditional agriculture activities, like showing livestock, 4-H offers an ever-expanding science, engineering and technology (SET) track that includes robotics, coastal erosion, forensics and technology. There’s also a newly added Performing Arts Troupe, plus a number of projects that focus on healthy living.
“We’re using our project areas to develop the child,” she said. “It did start out to be about agriculture, and now we see agriculture as a route to develop youth or any of the more than 40 projects areas they can participate in.”
While 4-H’ers benefit from the experience and mentorship of dedicated agents and volunteers, they also have the chance to become leaders themselves. That is an invaluable experience to have at a young age, Fox said.
“The 4-H program has changed my life,” said Jill Wiltz, of Natchitoches Parish, who is the state 4-H president. “I am confident and have a greater empathy for others. I embrace diversity and love to see others fulfill their potential. I embody the ‘4-H Grows’ campaign. I have never been involved in traditional agriculture programs. Instead, I’ve thrived in 4-H’s leadership and citizenship projects.”
Olivia McClure is an assistant communications specialist with LSU AgCenter Communications.