Celebrating 100 Years of North Carolina 4-H
For 100 years, 4-H has been reaching out to North Carolina’s children through the teaching of beneficial skills to help them succeed in life. 2009 marks a year of celebration of the past, present and future of North Carolina 4-H.
4-H is the largest youth organization in the state, with more than 239,000 youth and 23,000 volunteers actively involved in the more than 10,000 different programs statewide.
“We reach young people where they learn and play,” says 4-H Executive Director Michael Martin. “4-H goes to young people so they don’t have to come to us, and we’re as broad as the demographics of the youth we serve.”
“It began as a way to introduce new farming technologies to families,” says Mitzi Downing, NCSU extension assistant professor and specialist. “It’s hard to get the older generations to take on new technology, so it was taught to the youth in hopes that the youth would help incorporate it on the farm. It used youth to grow the village.”
Once the popularity spread, it quickly evolved into a statewide program. Today, North Carolina 4-H has expanded beyond production agriculture and into a club that offers programs from photography to computers and building rockets to raising animals. Youth involved in 4-H learn public speaking, decision-making skills, organizational planning, leadership, teamwork, record-keeping and communications skills.
“We teach them life skills. That may not be something every kid is excited about learning, but they look back on their years in 4-H and realize they came away confident in themselves,” Martin says.
“It’s a great youth development program. I feel very strongly that Farm Bureau and 4-H make a good team, and I feel we have a responsibility to help a good youth organization like 4-H,” said Larry Wooten, president of NCFB, and a former 4-H member.
In North Carolina, 4-H membership is represented by 51 percent rural youth and 49 percent urban youth. Downing says the most popular program in the state is STEM, for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.
“We do offer agriculture projects in STEM, but the majority of the projects revolve around aerospace, biology and engineering. The majority of our young people are there to learn a lot of things outside of traditional agriculture.”
Participants of 4-H are encouraged to learn in a hands-on way. Members complete projects based on their interest area. Projects can focus on producing something, developing a skill or raising an animal—and the interest area can be virtually anything.
“All of our programs are very experiential,” Downing says. “If a 9-year-old can actually see force and drag when studying racecars, rather than just learning the terms, it helps them see that science isn’t so boring.”
Rowan County Farm Bureau Member Beverly Pugh joined 4-H when she was eight years old and was a state officer during her high school years. Now a middle school principal, Pugh attributes her career success to skills she learned through participation in 4-H. She plans to attend the centennial celebration and continues to support 4-H efforts.
“It truly was life-changing,” Pugh says. “Had I not had the opportunities I had through 4-H, I wouldn’t be where I am now.”
Pugh credits 4-H with teaching her leadership skills, people skills and expanding her views of the world.
“I got a chance to see the world outside of my community. There is one experience in particular that sticks out in my mind,” she says.
“We were at 4-H National Congress in Chicago and we went down to the soda shop in the hotel. My friends and I sat at a table and were surrounded by people from all different parts of the world. We realized we were the only ones speaking English. That was really eye-opening for me because I wouldn’t have seen that in my little town.”
“Our town didn’t have Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts, but 4-H gave our rural youth the chance to do things that the city kids did through those programs,” Pugh says. “I would bet that a lot of people my age or younger have a great impact on society because of what they learned in 4-H.”
While 4-H serves North Carolina youth from all walks of life, the roots of the program are still grounded in its agricultural past, and have a strong impact on rural communities.
“In rural communities, so much of the leadership is volunteer,” Martin says. “You’ll find that most people that come forward to lead in those situations were 4-H members. In the clubs, the members run their own meetings and organization, so they learn leadership at a very young age.”
Planning for the centennial celebration began in 2008 with the forming of a committee of 100 4-H partners who identified six focus areas—life skills development, volunteering, leadership, work force, health and wellness, and K-12 program development.
“We chose these areas and focused on how we could support them and grow them throughout the year,” Downing says.
The committee determined that 2009 would be a year-long celebration of 4-H and would culminate with a homecoming in July.
The homecoming celebration will be an all-day event held on July 21. The event will include the induction of 100 past and present 4-H members into the North Carolina Hall of Fame; a reunion; exhibits spotlighting the past, present and future of 4-H; speeches and presentations from notable North Carolinians; performances from several 4-H groups; and a Rockin’ Clover Bash dance.
“We want to reconnect with alumni, tell the story of 4-H today and use the celebration as a platform to launch into a second century of excellence,” Martin says.
When looking into the next century of 4-H accomplishments, Martin sees a solid future. “I’m confident that our motto ‘make the best better’ will still be accurate, our slogan ‘learn by doing’ will still be appropriate and our involvement in the development of youth leadership will still be strong.”