4-H: It's not just for country kids
There was a time when 4-H Club was a “country kids” club.
As a matter of fact, there was a time when the whole country was divided basically into two classes of people: town and city folk, and country folk.
That’s no longer the case with society, and it certainly is no longer the case with 4-H.
“The organization has really changed a lot,” explained Monie Jackson Bremer, who has been a leader of the Star Banner 4-H of Dexter for 16 years. “It’s no longer just about farming and farm animals.”
Now the organization has become more urban, to fit the changing demographics of rural and urban America.
“Now we also teach kids about entrepreneurship, and technology. We even have a robotics program!” explained Bremer. “Our emphasis now is really more on leadership and responsibility.”
So that means both country kids and city and town kids can benefit from 4-H.
Kids involved in 4-H tend to start young, and often there is a family legacy of 4-H membership.
“Right now I’m dealing with 250 second graders from Dexter, Bloomfield, and Puxico,” laughed Bremer. “We have a lot of fun, but I know those kids are learning a lot.”
Bremer did not discover 4-H for herself until she married.
“I am from Arkansas, and even though Arkansas has 4-H, there was not a club in my area. I learned about it through my husband, who was a member his entire life,” said Bremer.
And true to the 4-H legacy, their daughter has been raised with 4-H, and she has loved every minute of it.
Now Meagan Smith, she recalls how she started 4-H when she was only eight years old.
“I started out as a Clover Kid and worked my way up to being a full time member in high school. And now I serve as a 4H Alumni and Volunteer,” said Smith.
How did 4H help her?
“I can’t even hardly put it into words,” she replied.
“Honestly, every day I tell people that 4H helped make me the person I am today. I really encourage parents to get their kids involved,” said Smith.
“Because of 4-H, I am a more responsible and dedicated person than I would have been without it,” she explained. “I’ve learned to be both a great leader, and a great follower.”
And it hasn’t just been the skills she learned in 4-H that helped her.
“I received two scholarships from 4-H so that I could attend two national trips through the organization,” said Smith. “I also obtained a college scholarship through the program.”
Smith said people often tell her she acts in a far more mature way than her years would suggest.
“I’m only 23, but people tell me I act much older. And I think 4-H helped me to develop a lot of interpersonal skills. I am strong. I am a quick thinker, and I am intuitive. The group even made me a much better public speaker than I would have been without it,” offered Smith.
She says she realized 4H is becoming a more urban organization when she attended its State Congress in Columbia.
“Almost half the members were from non-rural settings. Most of them didn’t even raise crops or livestock, but they were still gaining a lot of valuable skills and knowledge,” said Smith.
She noted many of them plan to go into business.
“You can learn just about anything from 4-H. There are all kinds of projects, from sewing and cooking to public speaking and robotics, and business,” offered the veteran 4H-er. “You really can’t get a broader background anywhere. There are even dance classes and a 4-H Choir!”
Also strengthening the 4-H Club is its close ties to many universities, including in Missouri the University of Missouri, and Lincoln University.
“The universities work to make 4-H more accessible to all kinds of kids, from all kinds of communities,” said Smith. She thinks that diversity makes the organization even stronger and more beneficial to its members, and to its communities.
And what is the end result for communities in which there are active 4-H Clubs?
“Kids from different kinds of communities have a lot to share, and that brings new experiences to everyone involved, and it helps every community to develop their next generation of leaders,” said Smith.
Smith says she will always hold fond memories of her growing up years with 4-H.
“I’ve always been an animal person, and I loved raising and showing livestock. I had goats, hogs, rabbits and cattle. And I loved woodworking. The hours I spent with my grandpa in his woodshop were hours I will always treasure, and I might not have had that time with him if it hadn’t been for 4H,” smiled Smith. “And you know what? I still use every one of the skills I learned with 4H to this day!”
Not bad for a little 5’2”, 100 pound girl who learned how to break steers.
“You can say I got a lot of my determination from my 4H experiences!” she laughed.
As an organization, 4-H was begun as a youth organization under the National Institute of Food and Agriculture with the United States Department of Agriculture. Its mission was to “engage youth to reach their fullest potential”.
The name 4-H represents four personal development areas: Head, Heart, Hands, and Health. The organization now has about 6.5 million members in the U.S., ranging in age from 5 to 21. Over 90,000 clubs are active in the U.S. It has also developed programs in over 80 countries around the world, all focusing on citizenship, healthy living, science, engineering, and technology.
The organization’s motto is “To make the best better” and to “Learn By Doing.”
Smith says she thinks the organization is more relevant than ever.
“I think kids need the skills and leadership promotion more than ever,” concluded Smith. “I don’t see an end to it. It is no longer just a country kids group. It’s for everyone, and everyone can benefit.”
In Southeast Missouri, nearly every county has an active 4-H group, including the counties of Wayne, Butler, and Ripley.
Kristy Wagner and Ashley Melanson are both active with the Ripley County group as a leader.
“I lead the Ripley County 4-H Rockin’ Rabbits and the Ripley County 4-H Kickin’ Chickens,” smiled Wagner.
She agrees that all kids can benefit from 4-H. She invites anyone with questions about joining 4-H in Ripley County to contact her or Steve Ivy.
Information can be found in all counties through their Extension Office, or at www.4-h.org.
Photo information: Meagan Bremer Smith and the State 4-H Council; Meaghan Smith and her goat at the livestock auction.