Encouraging Youth Involvement

The mangled SUV was towed away after a family's minivan going in the wrong direction crashed into in and another car on a suburban parkway in New York July 26, 2009, killing eight people, including four children.
The end of summer is a busy time for thousands of kids all over the country who take part in 4-H, a national organization of clubs and a youth education program in the United Sates

That's because it's county fair season and this summer is especially busy because it's 4-H's 100th anniversary. To help celebrate, 4-H went to The Early Show and set up its own county fair.

Don Flyod, the president and CEO of 4-H, explained that the program is not just a "farm kid" thing but is growing in popularly in inner cities.

4-H has introduced generations of children aged 5-19 to the rewards of learning trades and serving their communities. When it was founded, city jobs were drawing many young people away from farms. So in 1902, an Ohio school principal started an agriculture club in the hopes of reviving an interest in farming projects. With projects such as corn-growing contests, the club aimed to engage the "head, heart and hands" of children. In 1911, a fourth H — "health" — was added, and the clubs adopted the four-leaf clover emblem.

Today, there are more than 100,000 4-H clubs nationwide. While some have a traditional agriculture club format, others offer such 4-H club activities as rocket-building, gardening, bread baking and astronomy. The organization is even present in big cities (including a Bronx chapter).

Rather than having their orders dictated by a centralized organization, members of each club decide how often and where to conduct meetings, the nature of their projects and other activities.

There are some standards, however. Between meetings, members must work regularly on their projects, which can mean getting up early to feed a goat, testing recipes on a regular basis, or adding a few squares to a quilt every evening. They must also keep a record of their progress, expenses and profits, if any. Members of 4-H are also encouraged to serve their communities, sponsoring park cleanups and other fund-raisers.

To mark the 100th anniversary, 4-H is sponsoring a series of local, state and national Conversations between members and community and civic leaders. Planned in advance of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the conversations will are expected to result in a national action plan for improving volunteerism and youth development programs. Some 1,400 4-Hers from across the country converged on Washington, D.C., last spring to participate in the National Conversation.

4-H is also sponsoring the Power of Youth Pledge Campaign, a nationwide drive to encourage youth and adults to volunteer in their local communities. More than four million hours have been pledged thus far, while another million hours are expected to be pledged by year's end.

4-H Misconceptions

Floyd says 4-H is much more than cows, sows and plows. Today's 4-H is at odds with some common, long- standing misconceptions about the organization. Here are a few.

  • Myth: 4-H thrives largely in rural environments.
    Fact: 35 percent of the organization's 7 million members today live in the nation's largest cities and suburbs, while only 10 percent of its members come from America's farms.
  • Myth: 4-H's membership is made up of mostly white teen-agers.
    Fact: 30 percent of 4-H youth are drawn from minority populations.
  • Myth: 4-H programs are rooted primarily in the agricultural sciences.
    Fact: The significant majority of the organization's programs, which total more than 1,000, lay beyond the agricultural sciences ranging from biotechnology and robotics to skateboarding and hip-hop.