Remember Home Ec? The discipline of Home Economics has been an important and practical way to bring the latest research in food and nutrition; clothing and textiles; and other family and consumer sciences to American households. It helped make Alabama’s farm families healthier, better clothed and more financially secure. It was through school Home Ec classes and Cooperative Extension System that Alabama’s youth and families learned such fundamentals as food safety and good hygiene.
Even now, when you talk about 4-H with women of a certain age, you often hear tales (or see photos) of girls developing the skills to move from sewing pin cushions and aprons to creating cheerleaders’ uniforms and elegant prom dresses. Such traditional Home Economics projects required planning, self-discipline and taught valuable, practical skills.
Like many things in our world, Home Ec has changed. The term "Home Economics" has been widely supplemented by "Family and Consumer Sciences." And the skills and resources which youth and families need have shifted as well. Food safety is as important as ever, but such crafts as soap-making and quilting have moved from the level of necessity to become wonderful art forms. Pickling or baking may be the gateway to a lucrative business venture, not just a way to provide inexpensive and healthy meals.
Since Alabama 4-H strives to meet the changing needs and interests of Alabama’s young people, our Home Economics programs have also evolved. You may even mistake some of these 4-H club activities for a Food Channel or HGTV episode, not the sort of things you might expect from "old-school" 4-H.
For example, the "Cookin’ It Up in Marshall County" 4-H Club meets each month at the Guntersville Middle School. The club is led by Johanna Clemons, a professional chef. Young people in the club have learned everything from kitchen safety to holiday foods and proper etiquette.
In nearby DeKalb County, the "Sew On and Sew Forth" 4-H Club gets together twice a month at the Geraldine Homemakers Building. The club is led by Linda Daniels and Pam Rucks, along with several other members of the Geraldine Homemakers Club. These young people have learned such heritage skills as knitting, simple stitching and quilting. They are in the process of obtaining sewing machine donations from throughout the community so each member can learn to use a sewing machine.
As we often note, 4-H builds what we call the BIG M: Belonging, Independence, Generosity and Mastery. 4-H Family and Consumer Science programs are a great means of building those values. If you have visited the Foley Public Library, you got to see a perfect example through the work which "Dolphin Home School 4-H Club" has done. Working under the guidance of volunteer club leader, Karen Engelman, the Dolphins worked together on a handmade quilt as a club fundraiser.
Group quilts are a perfect representation of 4-H values. Young people must master specific skills, individually create their unique squares, work in a group to make the quilt into a whole and show generosity of spirit in sharing their ideas with one another and working cooperatively. And, as the Dolphins did with their Facebook posting of the quilt, you get to show off your work, not just in your community but around the world!
Through 4-H, young people continue to build skills fundamental to their safety and the safety of others. You know something cool is always going on in Cullman County 4-H, so you need to look no further than this summer’s 4-H Babysitter Boot Camp, a two-day training with the American Red Cross. This hands-on course is designed to help young people make smart decisions and stay safe in any babysitting situation. Young people in Cullman can contact the county Cooperative Extension Office for information. Residents of other counties can contact their Extension offices if they are interested in helping develop such training in their communities.
Through Youth Health and Safety Day at Choctaw County Elementary School, 4-H incorporated traditional Home Economics with other disciplines. The May event provided teaching stations, like the "House of Germs" where a glow-in-the-dark powder showed young people how well they washed their hands. STDs, ATV safety, Drug and Alcohol Awareness, dental care and other topics rounded out that great educational smorgasbord.
So, what about you? Are you an adult who enjoys cooking, quilting or some other aspect of 4-H Home Economics programs? Do you see needs in your community? We encourage you to share your interests and skills with young people in your community. Call your county Alabama Cooperative Extension Office to learn how you can become a trained 4-H volunteer and put your skills to work — where you live.
Chuck Hill is the 4-H Youth Development Specialist.