In any given day, in any month, there is some-thing wonderful taking place in Alabama 4-H. It involves young people learning by doing. It builds Belonging, Independence, Generosity and Mastery. No matter the subject, it will be based on university research in youth development. There will be caring, committed adults and there will be kids having fun. That’s what makes it 4-H.
4-H might be found along the banks of Weiss Lake, the shores of Mobile Bay, the farmland of Houston County, or in the heart of urban Mobile or Birmingham. It’s all 4-H and it’s all good.
In many ways, the Cherokee County 4-H program is representative of what goes on across much of the state. With the support of a great Alabama Cooperative Extension System (ACES) county staff led by Danny Miller and an excellent 4-H Regional Agent, Michael Dillon, the 4-H program makes good use of the unique talents and resources available in the region.
One such resource is the partnership with Quail Forever, a group dedicated to the conservation of quail and other wildlife through habitat improvements, public awareness, education, and land management policies and programs. For several years, Quail Forever has worked with the county 4-H program to plant wildlife habitat plots.
Last year, a group of Cherokee County 4-H youth picked up seed and helped plan and plant wildlife plots. Quail Forever and ACES recognized the participants for their time and efforts, with a special "shout out" to Emily Walker of Centre Middle School, Wesley Rogers of Spring Garden, and Alex and Austin Abernathy of Gaylesville.
The foundation of 4-H is club participation. Community 4-H clubs are legendary for the way in which they build friendship and learning through connections between adult mentors and older and younger youth. In many ways, Cherokee County’s Lookout Mountain 4-H Club, led by Mrs. Marie Roberts, represents what is best about 4-H.
The club began its 4-H year by electing officers. The role of officers and the process of orderly meetings – as one aspect of 4-H – is very important. It’s not "going through the motions," but a historically-celebrated opportunity to learn about the democratic process, successful meetings and the process of group decision-making. And "business" is never the focus of 4-H meetings; they are more about building new skills and having fun.
For the Lookout Mountain 4-H Club that meant a fall filled with learning about global positioning systems (GPS) and hosting a local 4-H photography contest. As an enrichment opportunity, several club members wandered the woods in the Leesburg area geocaching, an outdoor sporting activity in which participants use GPS to hide and seek containers. To finish up the calendar year, the Lookout Mountain group was introduced to tree identification and paid a visit to the Cherokee Manor Senior Living Home with baked goods and a joyful Christmas spirit. 2012 looks to be even more exciting with the Community Club designing a board game, rocketry, rock climbing and kayaking, and a return to the woods for more geocaching.
A hundred miles away, and in a very different setting from the woodlands of Cherokee County, 4-H was doing something just as important. For all our talk about sports — and our support of our Tide, Tigers and Bulldogs, Alabama is one of the least fit and active places in the United States. One of 4-H’s responses to the epidemic of inactivity and poor nutritional choices has been the development of a great program called Just Move! Alabama.
Just Move! Alabama uses club kits to support the program: Jumping for Health; Frisbee, Fun and Food; and Volley, Vitals and Vittles. Each kit has materials and lessons teaching a specific "recreational activity." Lessons on nutrition, food safety and body image are included.
It was Just Move! Alabama that took 4-H Regional Agent Izette McNeally to Hill and Minor Elementary Schools in downtown Birmingham. Did the kids get active? Yes! Did the kids have fun? Yes! Did the kids learn about fitness and nutrition? You bet! Izette reported the children had such a great time "they walked me to my car, jump-roping all the way." Now that sounds like 4-H.
As youth educators, we in 4-H see the tremendous challenges and opportunities which today’s young people face. But with great staff, like Izette and Michael, and tremendous volunteers, like Marie Roberts, we are proud of what we accomplish – in making "the best better," as the 4-H motto states.
Chuck Hill is a State 4-H Specialist and Michael Dillon and Izette McNeally are 4-H Regional Agents.