For 100 years, Wisconsin youth have been benefiting from 4-H. On Oct. 30, 1914, Linn 4-H Club in Walworth County became the first 4-H club in Wisconsin. 4-H has been going strong across the Dairy State ever since.
That's the first reason to celebrate 4-H in October. The second reason is National 4-H Week is Oct. 5-11.
According to the Wisconsin 4-H Office, there are 35,162 4-H members in Wisconsin today, which is pretty similar to the number of 4-H members there were 10 years ago in Wisconsin -- 36, 612.
Preparing for success
One of the best things about 4-H is it has always been an organization dedicated to helping young people prepare for future success. No matter what interest youth have, whether its dogs, dairy cows, photography, foods, rockets, nature, international cultures, cats, arts and crafts, youth leadership, vegetable gardening, knitting or dozens of other things, they can pursue it in 4-H. Wisconsin 4-H members can choose from some 240 different projects.
Findings from the first-of-its kind research project confirm a lot of what I already suspected from being a 4-H member, a leader and a parent of four sons who were 4-H members. The study revealed how young people benefit from the programs and life-changing experiences offered by 4-H. In fact, according to the study, 4-H members are nearly four times more likely to contribute to their communities. The research uncovered similar findings across other important areas including healthy living, civic engagement and academic achievement. According to the study, 4-H members are:
*Two times more likely to be civically active (grades 8-12);
*Two times more likely to make healthier choices (grade 7);
*Two times more likely to participate in science, engineering and computer technology programs during out-of-school time (grades 10 – 12); and
*4-H girls are two times more likely (grade 10) and nearly three times more likely (grade 12) to take part in science programs compared to girls in other out-of-school time activities.
I have always felt sorry for kids who missed out on the 4-H experience. I believe when kids are growing up in 4-H, there are so many hands-on learning experiences for them to benefit from compared to kids not in 4-H. And by the time they get to college, those students who were active in 4-H seem to have a clearer plan about what they want to do in college and after they graduate and have a lot more leadership experience than their classmates who were not in 4-H.
Recruit a new member
Do yourself and a child you know who is not in 4-H a favor and invite them to attend a 4-H club meeting. Invite their whole family so the child's parents and siblings can learn what 4-H is all about. Be willing to answer their questions and introduce them to 4-H members in the club who are their age. Hopefully the 4-H club leader will have a packet prepared that she can give the family that lists what projects are available in 4-H, when the club meetings are and where they are held. Prepare to mentor the child and the family for several months so they learn what it's like to get a project or projects ready to show at the county fair. Families where one or both parents were 4-H members are always easier to explain the 4-H experience to. Don't assume 4-H alumni will automatically enroll their kids in 4-H. With all the school and sports activities available to kids today, some parents may forget about 4-H or they may live in a different county or state than they grew up in.
No matter how young people engage in 4-H, they will leave their 4-H experience with the leadership, collaboration, critical thinking, decision-making and communication skills they need to succeed in careers that haven't even been invented. Not to mention they learn a number of life skills including how to cook, take photos, care for an animal or pet, grow vegetables or make clothing. Connecting young people to the huge variety of 4-H experiences available for youth, in animal science, arts, citizenship, leadership, science and more will be key in continuing to grow Wisconsin 4-H for the next 100 years.