Happy National 4-H Week!
If you were to ask me, "What good is 4-H?"
...I would talk your ear off for 30 minutes. I was privileged to spend 8 years of my life going to fairs, fashion revues, and achievement days. Based on my experience, and my observations of others' experiences, let me state 10 reasons that you, as a pre-teen/teenager, should join 4-H.
Reason 1: You get awards. A lot of them. This is my haul.
In 4-H, you get awards based on your projects, speeches or demonstrations, animals, and essays or paperwork. (Yes, you get a plaque for doing paperwork.) Since I live in the middle of the city, the only animal I ever did was my dog in obedience classes. Therefore, most of my awards are basically for sewing/foods/knitting/crocheting.
The pins are for judging different project techniques on paper. A bit of trivia on this photo…all of my pins are on the bottom, my mom's 4-H pins are on the top right corner, her dad's 4-H pins are in the top left corner, AND my great-great-grandma's 4-H pin is in the middle of my grandpa's pins (the tiny clover). So, I am a 5th generation 4-Her.
Ribbons are what we 4-H troops collect the most, and what civilians are most familiar with. Some are for demonstrating project techniques, but most are from county fairs, regional fair, and state fair. And just so you know, that elusive blue ribbon that everyone talks about?? It's not that big of a deal. You wanna go for the purple. The giant purple rosette. I tell you, once you reach that level, you will never settle for blue ribbons again.
Trophies are mainly for public speaking, demonstrating project techniques, and modeling your handmade clothing. Honestly, I'm not, like, par-excellence in my fields, but I am practically the only kid in my county in my fields, so that's why I have the trophies. What I am most proud of are the two wooden plaques on the bottom of the picture. The right one is the I Dare You award, which is given by the William H. Danforth Foundation to kids who show themselves to be forward-thinking, exceptional people. I wouldn't exactly call myself that, but it does seem to be a running theme with 4-H kids, and I was very honored to receive the award a couple of years ago. The plaque on the left was my crowning achievement. The Key Award is the final, highest, and most exhausting award a 4-Her can achieve. You basically work on it through your whole 4-H career. I could tell you what all I did for it, but we would be here all day.
Reason 2: I know kids who have 3 times as much shiny stuff.
My haul only takes up the top of our entertainment center, one shelf, and 4 shoeboxes. Kids who do animals, and have been in 4-H the full 10 years, have Rubbermaid totes full of ribbons and walls full of trophies. No kidding.
Reason 3: In 4-H, you'll either learn public speaking well, or you'll die trying.
Public speaking is one of the core skills that 4-H emphasizes, and rightly so, in my humble opinion. Whether you end up being the President, a stay-at-home mom, or a customer-service rep, you need the ability to speak well in the public arena. As all 4-Hers say, I remember at my first club meeting, I couldn't even stand up and state my name and age to the club. Now, even though it's still hard for me to actually write a good speech, I have lost nearly all of my stage fright, and can look an audience in the eye.
Reason 4: You will learn the importance of finishing your OWN projects and your OWN report forms. 'Cause it ain't Mama's name on that ribbon.
God bless my dear mother's patience. If she hadn't pushed and prodded me to finish my projects and finish them well, I would've given up a long time ago. She was always careful to emphasize that if I started something, and didn't finish it, or did a half-cocked job, I was the only person it reflected back on. Not on her, not on my dad, and not on my project leader. And I'm very grateful for that. If kids learn this lesson now, they will have no trouble earning a reputation as a hard worker later in life.
Reason 5: Learn a new skill! Contrary to popular opinion, Mama doesn't know everything.
This was another important lesson I learned through my 4-H projects. First, you won't get very far in life if you aren't willing to try something new, and break out of your comfort zone. This was a very hard lesson for me to learn. The year I took Food Preservation, there were tears cried. And there were long nights and more tears cried with some sewing projects, too. But now I have two skills that may serve me well down the road in life. Second, there are lots of talented adults who would be thrilled to pass their knowledge on to a teenager. I know older people sometimes seem boring and fuddy-duddy to a teenager, but trust me—they have lived 3 times as long as you have, and the wealth of knowledge they have to share is immeasurable.
Reason 6: In 4-H, you develop a sense of responsibility to your community and your government—any level.
Community service and civic responsibility are two other core skills that 4-H emphasizes. Every year, my club decorated Christmas cards to hand out as we caroled at the local nursing home. I can't say it made me fall in love with the place, but there is something fulfilling about doing something that puts a smile on a lonely person's face. You also learn how important it is to be a part of your local, state, and even national government. You may be just a kid, but if you take the time to voice a well-informed, level-headed, politely-stated opinion, people listen. In Newton and McDonald counties, we are very fortunate to have two representatives that are highly involved in the 4-H community. I was also very fortunate to attend Citizenship Washington Focus, a national 4-H conference that takes an in-depth look at the work of our national legislators. I know people growl about the corruption in Congress, but the efficiency and meticulousness of the law-making process itself was amazing to me.
Reason 7: 4-H puts you in the path of talented, resourceful people, and helps you make good connections—whether it's friends, mentors, or references.
Because of 4-H, I know people who are willing to be references for my job résumés, and who give me sound advice about many things. 4-H helped me get one of my first jobs. And 4-H helps you develop friendships with quality kids who help make you a better person, as you help them be better people. There are some exceptions to the rule (who will remain nameless), but I've met a lot more of the good apples than the bad apples.
Reason 8: As an adult, being able say that you were in 4-H gives you a valued reputation.
Being a "4-H alumni" puts you in the same ranks as Jackie Kennedy, Johnny Cash, Roy Rogers, Pat Nixon, Reggie White, Al Gore, and Herschel Walker. Employers look favorably at 4-H on a résumé, because "4-H" is generally synonymous with "hard-worker," "responsible," and "forward-thinking."
Reason 9: 4-H can help you develop a greater sense of maturity and a more realistic grasp on your future goals.
This isn't something magical that just happens when you state the 4-H pledge. It depends on the level of commitment and hard work that you put into your projects and whom you surround yourself with. Like I said, not all 4-Hers are stellar. At that national conference, I saw some kids making disrespectful jokes at a war memorial and other kids disregarding rules that were repeated multiple times. But I also know of 4-Hers who
-gave a speech at the state capitol about the definition of "right to life."
-will be traveling to study agriculture at the University of Ghana in 2013
-placed in top categories at national public speaking contests
-raised over $1000 in 2 months to help a needy family pay their bills.
And that's just a few of the stories.
Reason 10: And last, but not least, 4-H helps you develop a sense of achievement in your talents and experience in forms of leadership.
It sounds impressive to list 4-H kids who are traveling the world and speaking before "kings and presidents." But not every kid will have opportunities like that, and that's okay. The important thing about 4-H is that it teaches you to work hard, be proud of your work, and be a leader in your circles. Not everyone will become the President of the US, or even the president of the Downtowners 4-H club. We can all be leaders, though. A leader is someone who takes the initiative to complete a task, and is willing to rise to the level of work expected for that task. I haven't spoken at the capitol, or won a state competition, or even served on my county Teen Council. And so far in life, I'm talking on the phone and explaining to teachers why they haven't received their magazines yet. But what I learned in 4-H will serve me the rest of my life. I may be just a customer service rep, but I plan on being the most polite, most attentive, most dedicated, and most capable customer service rep Scholastic has ever employed. You may only have one skill that you do well. If you join 4-H, you can learn to master that skill, and become a leader in the area where you use that skill. Our motto is "To make the best better," and every project leader and youth specialist in 4-H works to help kids do that. America would benefit from a generation of young adults who did the best they could in everything. And, hey, even if you don't want to join 4-H, take the 4-H pledge, learn it by heart, and apply to your life. It will definitely change your life, and you just might change your world.
"I pledge my head to clearer thinking,
my heart to greater loyalty,
my hands to larger service,
and my health to better living—