April 2013
Youth Matters

Fun Times with 4-H


The annual Youth Leadership Conference is one of the most popular statewide programs for helping younger people learn about themselves and how to work with others. The “hands-on, minds-on” activities help young people build new skills – and they are fun!

On any day, there are many wonderful things taking place in Alabama 4-H. It may be the individual success of a shy fifth-grader in Limestone County talking in front of a group. There may be a young man in Montgomery who creates a brilliant new chicken recipe. Perhaps it’s a state-wide program teaching youth the importance of civic engagement and responsibility. In looking through our "success stories," here are some examples of the small and large victories taking place in Alabama 4-H every day of every week.

Capturing the Spirit of Leadership

4-H has always offered an array of opportunities for building leadership among older teens. There are national and statewide events where older youth can develop new skills in communications and organization. For younger people, however, the opportunities have been more limited. Several years ago members of the 4-H field staff took it upon themselves to develop a new and unique program to reach young people who were just beginning to explore their potential for leadership.

Every summer, 100 young people ages 9 through 13 gather at the Alabama 4-H Center to learn leadership and teamwork through the Alabama 4-H Youth Leadership Conference. This conference is a collaborative effort of 4-H, County Extension personnel and the Alabama Junior Master Gardener program.

The Youth Leadership Conference allows youth to practice all aspects of the BIG M standard: Belonging, Independence, Generosity and Mastery. This year, the group aided in a special project for the Ronald McDonald House, planted flowers and practiced hands-on communications skills through a 4-H canoeing activity.

Since public speaking and stage presence are such critical aspects of 4-H, young people also did activities from the Ham It Up! arts program. Ham it Up! lets youth think on their feet, improvising a presentation based on goofy props like a rubber chicken or clown glasses. And for those who enjoy sweet things and/or entomology, the Dancing Honey Bees program taught the kids the importance of teamwork – and bees!

For several years, ATV Safety Training has been one of Alabama 4-H’s most popular and successful outdoor programs. Properly used, ATVs are an enjoyable and challenging activity. Improperly used, they are deadly.


Staying Safe Off-Road

From 1982 through 2006, more than 75 children under 16 years of age were killed in ATV accidents in Alabama. From 2007-2010, 73 people were killed in ATV accidents. In Northwest Alabama, all-terrain vehicles are a popular form of recreation for kids. Many ride at high speed in dangerous conditions – with no training and no safety gear.

Through the Alabama Forestry Commission’s Forestry Awareness Week Now program, cooperative Extension offices in Fayette, Lamar and Marion Counties have been able to respond to this very real need. Working with the Forestry Planning Committee in each county, the Forestry Service and groups, they bring sixth graders to visit the forest environment. Youth learn about forest management; forest products, soils and wildlife; and other topics. For the past three years, ATV safety has been identified as an important topic.

This year, under the instruction of Regional Extension Agent Ronni Rena Brasher, more than 600 sixth-grade youth geared-up for an imaginary ride through trails on an ATV. Youth learned what size ATV was appropriate, proper techniques for handling the ATV, and what gear – such as a helmet and chest protector – they would need.

Youth were surprised that most of them were riding ATVs that are too large for them to handle safely – and they should not ride double on a four-wheeler. If one serious injury can be prevented, this training will have had a profound impact.


When 4-H held a Christmas Fashion Show in Birmingham, the event brought out community celebrities and leaders. Even the chief of police came to show his support of the event which was entirely planned and coordinated by young people.

4-H State Council

Perhaps the ultimate honor and responsibility for an Alabama 4-H member is service on the State 4-H Council. These young people exemplify the best and brightest in 4-H. However, it not just an honorary position; it is a position mandating the 4-H commitment to our state, our communities and our world.

State Council community service projects open the eyes of our youth to existing issues in our communities. More than simply seeing problems, they are charged to seek solutions and institute positive change. State Council is an awesome example of how youth can identify challenges, work in groups to develop ideas, and ultimately deliver results to better the citizens of Alabama.

Every year, Alabama 4-H State Council members take on service projects aimed at providing meaningful assistance to their individual communities. At their July meeting, the 2012-2013 State Council assessed regional and county needs. Putting their heads together, they developed several service project opportunities.

Breaking it down into regional and state activities, the State Council selected to collect items for the Ronald McDonald House, hold clothing and coat drives, arrange peanut butter and canned food drives at grocery stores and schools, collect items for personal hygiene kits and hold a baked food sale benefiting the No Kid Hungry campaign.

State Council representatives worked with county offices to promote these projects. With generous donations from individuals, clubs and schools, the State 4-H Council was able to serve and support others in their community and our state.

Chuck Hill is a 4-H Youth Development Specialist.