As "the 4-H lady," I frequently hear wonderful stories from adults about the effect 4-H has had on their lives. Many political leaders, attorneys and business people love to talk about their youthful experiences in 4-H public speaking. There are always inspiring stories about livestock projects, 4-H sewing activities and fond remembrances of 4-H summer camp or journeys to 4-H National Congress "once upon a time" in Chicago.
What stories will today’s young people tell in 50 years? You may be surprised to know young people can still do most of the things they have always done. There are dozens of superb learning opportunities and, if a child wished to be tested against others, our freestyle events could even cover such "old school" activities as Corn Club production.
But many kids may not be interested in our great animal science programs or in public speaking. Although many young people have cats and dogs (perfect for 4-H projects!), Alabama’s increasingly urban population doesn’t have the same opportunities to raise calves or lambs, and if you asked most kids where hamburger or milk came from, their obvious answer would be "the grocery store." Since the bright lights and big city also attract many rural kids, we constantly wonder: "What can 4-H offer that is both interesting and practical?"
We often say 4-H seeks to respond to the changing needs and interests of youth. We also note, "If it isn’t fun, it isn’t 4-H!" Those guidelines have led us into some terrific directions. For example, arts activities are a growing phenomenon in Alabama 4-H. The people of Alabama have always loved the arts. Our quilts and story tellers are known around the world. Our ancestors created great folk pottery, they carved furniture and wrought iron into lasting monuments to skill and creativity.
Nothing is more 4-H than the arts. They provide the 4-H core values of Belonging, Independence, Generosity and Mastery. Kids who engage in the arts learn self-discipline and imagination – and they do better academically. A successful volunteer-led theatrical production, like Baldwin County’s outstanding 4-H production of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, also teaches teamwork and planning.
But even rural young people face new challenges and opportunities. They are part of the FaceBook/MySpace generation, but they also love to explore the outdoors. But there can be downsides to that aspect of country life. Too many communities have tragic stories of young people pushing their limits through improper use of all-terrain vehicles (ATV). In response, Alabama 4-H instituted a world-class ATV training program. Did you know 4-H did that?
4-H and the outdoors have connections in many other ways. Alabama 4-H is nationally recognized for the caliber of its Wildlife and Forestry Judging Teams. Our 4-H Center near Columbiana is in the top tier of youth development and outdoor education centers in the United States. The Center and its Coosa River Science School have helped make Alabama 4-H the leading youth environmental education organization in our state.
But there are other classic things Alabama 4-H has always done to help young people, programs that will surely do well for many years to come. For example, Alabama 4-H was strongly represented at the 2008 National 4-H Poultry and Egg Conference. We sent three young people and all three placed in their events! Anna Montgomery was third in the Turkey Barbecue competition, Nicholas McLendon was third in Chicken Barbecue and Mary Jo Melton was tenth in Egg Preparation.
The Houston County 4-H Livestock Judging Team recently represented Alabama in the National 4-H Livestock Judging event. In this highly-competitive event, youth evaluate breeding and market cattle, swine, sheep and goats; use performance data in making decisions; answer questions; and give four sets of oral reasons. The team traveled to major agriculture universities, visited livestock producers in eight states and commercial agri-businesses in preparation for the national event.
The 4-H National Livestock contest was held during the North American International Livestock Exposition in Louisville. Thirty-two states competed, with Alabama ranking as the top team in the Southeast. Nationally, the team finished in the top 20 and individual members scored in the top third of participants. The team visited the North American livestock shows, toured the cattle and sheep barns, and attended the trade show. Thank you to all the sponsors and producers who supported this team.
Many adults wish to bring the positive direction of 4-H to today’s young people. One way you can help is by becoming a 4-H volunteer, helping form a community club or sharing your knowledge and commitment with your county’s youth. Another way is to honor those who have led us to where we are. I would encourage you to visit our web site at www.alabama4h.com. You will be interested in events during our Alabama 4-H Centennial. April 20-24 is 4-H Centennial Blitz Week, with a goal of every Alabama county doing something special to celebrate the heritage and future of Alabama 4-H.
I would also encourage you to follow the links to the Alabama 4-H Wall of Fame. The Wall of Fame recognizes individuals and groups who have had an impact on 4-H in our state. Has a "4-H lady" or a "4-H man" had an impact on you or your community? He or she might be just the person we wish to add to the Alabama 4-H Wall of Fame!
For information on the 4-H Centennial or the Alabama 4-H Wall of Fame, contact Betty Gottler, Centennial Program Coordinator, at (334) 844-8840 or gottlte@ auburn.edu.
Amy Payne Burgess is a 4-H Regional Extension Agent for DeKalb, Marshall, and Cherokee Counties.