4-H: Citizenship, leadership, life skills
Sept./Oct. 2009 California Country magazine
Story by Christine Souza
Photos by Karin Bakotich
Students take advantage of the opportunities California's 4-H Youth Development Program provides.
Each year 4-H members put their knowledge and skills to the test during the California State 4-H Field Day at the University of California, Davis. This year Lake County 4-H’er Kylie Hill won a gold for her presentation, in which she and “Oscar” demonstrated poultry showmanship.
Beyond Facebook, video games and the Jonas Brothers, children ages 9-19 who take part in the University of California's 4-H Youth Development Program build confidence, learn responsibility and develop skills that will last a lifetime.
While 4-H has rural roots, nearly half of the members in California today live in urban or suburban areas. And their activities reflect this diversity. Through their local club, after-school program, camp or other 4-H program, young people make friends and share interests that include caring for everything from alpacas to pigs and developing skills like archery and Web design.
Fifteen-year-old Kylie Hill of Finley is just one of 130,000 young Californians from Brawley to Tulelake who proudly wear the signature 4-H uniform: crisp white shirt and pants and logoed hat and scarf.
At her friends' urging, Kylie enrolled in her local 4-H club. In four years she has raised steers, poultry, goats and one show dog, has given numerous presentations and has crafted fleece blankets to warm residents at the local nursing home. She also serves as president of Big Valley 4-H.
Rhett Robertson of Imperial County gives a demonstration on kitchen essentials.
For 10-year-old Rhett Robertson, who lives in Imperial County, 4-H offers plenty of opportunities to help young people build careers.
"I joined 4-H to try it out and see what it was like. I just jumped in headfirst and I really enjoy it," said Kylie, whose family grows walnuts, grapes and pears in Lake County.
Kylie entered the 4-H program somewhat reserved, but has emerged as a confident leader.
"When I started 4-H, I would not get up in front of people. That year I did three project reports in front of our club. I also decided to run for office, which meant I had to give a speech in front of the whole club," she said. "By the second year, I was able to jump up in front of any crowd."
Dozens of 4-H'ers modeled handmade clothing and accessories during the fashion review portion of State 4-H Field Day. Here, Kaitlen Lawton of Kings County shows off a skirt made from nurse's scrubs and a handbag made from Starbucks gift cards.
"Kids will get a lot out of 4-H," Rhett said. "If you want to go into the Army, the shooting sports project teaches you to load and take guns apart and clean them properly. If you want to become a professional photographer and start your own business, the photography project starts you out. If you want to become a gourmet chef, food and nutrition helps you."
Rhett loves talking to other kids about his 4-H experience and reminds them if they do not take advantage of the program, "they are letting opportunities pass them by."
"4-H is a great experience," he said. "I like being able to compete and travel to the events and meet new friends."
Want to join in?
To find a 4-H club near you, visit www.ca4h.org and use the search function at the center of the page. For specific details about what is required to join 4-H, go to www.ca4h.org/4hinfo.
Grange promotes family and community
The California State Grange is a grassroots organization that invites children and adults to turn their attention to activities that foster citizenship and family values, whether urban or rural.
The California State Grange (www.californiagrange.org) is part of the National Grange, formed after the American Civil War to improve the economic and social position of the nation's farm population. Today it has expanded its focus to include environmental awareness and encompass non-farm rural families and communities.
The Junior Grange, open to children ages 5-14, features programs and projects including animals, arts and crafts, creative writing and public speaking. Members also support public schools with fundraisers and donations.
Part of the $1,000 check Sarah Beth Wadkins got from selling her award-winning calf went to help hospitalized children. Photo by Chris Wadkins.
"I love Grange. I would definitely encourage others to join," said 13-year-old Sarah Beth Wadkins, a member of High Desert Grange in San Bernardino County. Of the many highlights of the program, she puts animals and learning responsibility at the top of the list.
"I love being around the animals. I've always had to wake up really early to feed my calf," she said. "I also enjoy the whole business aspect. You learn so much by buying the animal, raising it and selling it."
After her calf won in six categories and fetched $1,000 at last summer's county fair, Sarah Beth donated a percentage of her earnings to the children's ward at St. Mary Medical Center in Apple Valley.
"I like to feel that I'm helping out. I think the children will appreciate it," she said. "It's not a big amount, but just knowing if they get a teddy bear out of the money or that it will put a smile on their face, that's great."
Christine Souza is a reporter for California Country. She can be reached at 800-698-FARM or email@example.com.