4-H: Making the best better
By Barbara Pierce
Madison County is home to a robust 4-H program. Though its roots are in agriculture and raising livestock, today’s 4-H features members who explore coding, create video games, build robots, work with drones, and even make maple syrup — all while developing life skills that will assist them to become responsible adults.
“Head, Heart, Hands, and Health” are the four Hs in 4-H, the four values participants work on through fun and engaging programs.
While 4-H began as an agricultural program, it has evolved to meet the needs of growing urban communities. 4-H is an opportunity for all kids aged 5-to-19 to expand their horizons with a variety of projects that encourage personal growth.
“4-H is the largest youth program in the world,” said Craig T. Brown, 4-H youth development resource educator, Cornell Cooperative Extension, Madison County. “Every county has a 4-H, shaped on what the community needs. It’s different in every county.”
“My son loves it,” said Vicki Markowski of Morrisville. Her 11-year-old son Landon participates in 4-H of Madison County. “He’s learned so much and enjoys it so much. He does a range of projects: he took a coding class, made maple syrup, is growing a vegetable garden, and helped create a trail in the wilderness.”
“Two years ago, 4-H wasn’t well known in our community,” said Brown. “Up to then, we were club-driven by volunteer leaders.”
Brown took over the leadership two years ago. “We’ve grown substantially — 20 to 25% of the kids in the county are now involved in 4-H,” he said. “We’re still growing.”
“We’re fortunate to connect with the schools; we’re in every school district in Madison County,” he added. After-school programs are popular and how many kids become involved.
Landon, who does not live on a farm, discovered 4-H through an after-school program, his mother said. That was three years ago, and he continues to be enthusiastic about what he does.
“The biggest benefit is that he has gained self confidence in public speaking,” she said. He wasn’t good in that area; now he got 96%. We’re so happy; it’s so wonderful.”
“He’s learned so much, things he might not know. He won a blue ribbon at the state fair,” she noted. “And he’s so proud of the work he did on the trail.”
“4-H offers so much to help kids become adults,” she added.
“I believe the biggest thing in Madison County is that the kids have input into what their program will be. We ask them what they want,” said Brown. “Whatever a child wants, we try to give them — they want to build rockets, we’ll build rockets.”
“What’s popular lately, what the kids have asked for, is to learn coding so they can make video games. And there is a lot of interest in dairy and equine,” he said. “We have guest speakers, vets, and Cornell professors coming to teach the kids what the kids want to learn.
“The kids want something hands-on. They want to build stuff, make mistakes and figure out what works.”
“It’s a challenge but awesome, what we do. It can be hard to achieve a balance between having fun and learning essential skills. I do love what we do; it makes me smile just talking about it,” Brown said. “Also, we s collaborate with every other community program that serves kids. All of us are struggling, so anything we can do to work with each other is great.”
4-H of Madison County is open to any child in Madison or surrounding counties. Getting involved is easy and costs are kept to a minimum. 4H doesn’t require a uniform and there are no nationwide fees.
The 4-H motto — “To Make the Best Better” — encourages each member to do his or her best and improve next time, so their “best” becomes “better.” Members stretch their abilities and capacities to reach their full potential.
“The long-term benefits of 4-H participation include better grades, more engagement in school, greater likelihood of attending college and greater likelihood of pursuing a career in technology and STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) fields. I encourage students to join 4-H,” sums up Collier County 4-H leader Tish Roland online.
4H is a community for all kids, with programs that suit a variety of backgrounds, interests, budgets and schedules. Whether at home, in-school or after-school, or in clubs, 4H’s positive youth development programs are available in your local community, welcoming children who want to have fun, learn and grow.
If you know a child in Madison County who may be interested in participating, visit http://madisoncountycce.org/4-h-youth or see the Facebook page: Madison County 4-H youth development.
If you are outside of Madison County, to find more about your local 4-H, see https://4-h.org/find/.
Photo: Craig T. Brown, 4-H youth development resource educator, Cornell Cooperative Extension, Madison County, reads to program participants recently.