October 2013
Youth Matters

4-H Extension Corner: Modern 4-H Helps Open the World to Alabama Youth

4-H has helped open a larger world to many Alabama youth. For generations of kids, the summer trip to Auburn and 4-H State Congress was their first major journey beyond the boundaries of Coffee, Winston or Marengo County. Visiting Auburn each summer was an enriching experience showing them that access to college was both possible and desirable. It allowed them to meet other kids from around the state and to encounter a relatively-wider range of young people.

  Left to right, Remember National Congress? Today’s kids don’t share grandmother’s excitement about competing in the 4-H Frozen Foods Event. They have much more timely things in which to be engaged. Knowledge can take you far in 4-H. This year’s state 4-H Forestry Judging Team was from Pickens County. The 2013 State Champs placed second in the national invitational event held at Jackson’s Mill State 4-H Conference Center in Weston, WV.

For dozens of others, the "big show" was always Chicago. From the 1920s through the early ‘90s, the ultimate 4-H destination was National 4-H Congress. There was a tour of the Union Stock Yards during the International Livestock Exposition along with exhibits, demonstrations and a popular parade. It was an experience many 4-H veterans still relish as a life-changing event. Chicago was a world of possibilities radically different from what the kids had seen in Clio or Alabaster or Bayou La Batre.


Clockwise from top left, what did you remember about summer camp? The Alabama 4-H Center provides kids with an array of experiences that go far beyond finger painting and bean mosaics. Young people have opportunities for an array of experiences in 4-H. From pre-school Cloverbuds to senior 4-Hers, 4-H teaches Belonging, Independence, Generosity and Mastery – all while having fun. 4-H Football Day is the largest, most high-profile event in Alabama 4-H. Attracting more than 1,000 young people to Auburn each year, it has also provided unique learning opportunities. Here, Mona Dominguez of the state 4-H staff teaches young football fans about the importance of invertebrates in the water system.  

But 4-H has changed just as Alabama’s farms, families and youth have changed. What appealed to youth in the 1920s or the ‘50s didn’t have the same resonance with youth of the ‘90s. The massive Chicago National Congress evolved into a more intimate Atlanta undertaking focusing on service. And the "green wave" that once descended on the Auburn campus each summer is now a series of smaller, but equally enthusiastic waves.

  The annual State Competitive Events Day remains a popular point on the 4-H summer calendar. The state winner of the renowned Chicken-Que event goes on to the National 4-H Poultry and Egg Conference in Louisville.

Twenty-first century Alabama 4-H youth still have wonderful and diverse opportunities to go beyond their own communities. Nationally, they can attend the condensed National Congress in Georgia each November. Held in Washington, the National 4-H Conference is the premier professional and leadership development event for 4-H members. For young people who are deeply involved in such activities as shooting sports and egg and poultry, their interest can lead them to national competitive events such as the National 4-H Poultry and Egg Conference in Louisville and National 4-H Shooting Sports Invitational.

Statewide, one of the biggest, coolest, most-wonderful events is summer 4-H camp at the Alabama 4-H Center near Columbiana. 4-H summer camp alumni think they had fun "back in the day," but they would be blown away by the rich experiences today’s kids have. From state-of-the-art science labs to live introductions to Alabama flora and fauna (think snakes and owls), 4-H camp still retains that pure fun while kicking up the educational component many notches.

For several years, Alabama 4-H has hosted its largest, most high profile event: "4-H Football Day." 4-H Football Day draws more than a thousand young people to Auburn each fall to experience life on a college campus and to meet other young people. This youth football day concept has expanded to the Alabama Cooperative Extension System’s other university Alabama A&M as well as to Troy University. During the 2012 season, the Alabama A&M team visited Auburn, so both universities were able to join in a shared Football Day.

In statewide contests, a crowning recognition is Alabama 4-H Competitive Events Day. Although some states no longer hold statewide competitive events, Alabama has revised its contests to offer events on more contemporary topics such as digital photography. The traditional judging evaluation is now paired with a serious emphasis on educational discussions between competitors and judges. The 2013 4-H Competitive Events Day drew 136 competitors to the Alabama 4-H Center where they displayed their skill and knowledge in such fields as story-telling, quilting and birdhouse architecture.

Chuck Hill is a 4-H Youth Development Specialist.