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4-H Is The Best Youth Program In America

By Reed Anfinson
Swift County Monitor-News
I pledge my head to clearer thinking,
My heart to greater loyalty,
My hands to larger service,
And my health to better living, for my club, my community, my country, and my world.
The 4H Pledge
Each year as we attend the county fairs in the area, we can’t help but be impressed with the quality of the young people participating in the 4-H programs.

Their poise, grace under pressure, sportsmanship, and knowledge of the animals they are handling during the shows all are proof that they are living the pledge they take as members of a club.

We watched as young children handled farm animals much heavier and stronger, and at times much taller, than they are. It can be extremely frustrating dealing with animals that often don’t cooperate as they try parade them around the show ring. Some of those animals seem to take pleasure in causing as much distress to their young handlers as possible. But the kids persevere.

We see the sportsmanship and caring that 4-H members show for fellow competitors. When one is having a particularly difficult time with an animal, they will lend a helping hand. They mentor younger 4-H members, giving them helpful suggestions on how to best prepare and show their animals.

We have seen self-confidence develop in these young people throughout their years of participating in showing their animals before the public and judges. Long before they are in the arena with their animal, 4-H members are learning as much as they can about it, caring for it and training it for display in the arena. Kids involved in 4-H also learn to be gracious winners as well as taking defeat with grace.

 During the process, they are learning skills that will serve them later in life whether it is in business or public service. 4-H youth working at food booths at county fairs learn customer service, how to take orders, and how to count change.

“I’m not aware of any youth program anywhere that contributes more to the training for future leadership and to give constructive activity to young people than 4-H,” the late Joe Robbie, who was the general manager and owner of the Miami Dolphins, said. Robbie grew up near Sisseton, S.D., before going on to become an extraordinarily successful businessman and lawyer in Miami.

A couple years ago, we were talking with a judge who is a professor at the University of Minnesota in its animal science programs. He said that his classes get underway each semester, he can quickly tell which of his students had been involved with 4-H. Their skills in communications, leadership, and focus made them stand out.

A 2019 study by the Institute for Applied Research in Youth Development at Tufts University found that involvement in 4-H programs led to “positive youth development.” When compared with their peers who were involved in other after-school activities (including sports), youth in 4-H gave more to their communities. As a measure of youth development, it used characteristics including “competence, confidence, character, and caring.”

The study also found that youth involved in 4-H programs are:

- Four times more likely to contribute to their communities.

- Two times more likely to be civically active.

- Two times more likely to make healthier choices.

- Two times more likely to participate in science, engineering, and computer engineering programs during out-of-school time.

- And 4-H girls are two times more likely (grade 10) and nearly three times more likely (grade 12) to take part in science programs compared to girls in other out-of-school activities.

Tufts’ study looked at more than 7,000 adolescents from diverse backgrounds across 42 U.S. states.

How do 4-H programs get these results? It says they are achieved by focusing on three important areas:

- Positive and sustained relationships between youth and adults

- Activities that build important life skills

- Opportunities for youth to use these skills as participants and leaders in valued community activities.

We see the real-world experiences offered through 4-H to city and country kids alike as building the character that later helps them succeed in life.

In the 4-H barns young people and their parents gather with the pigs, horses, cattle, sheep, rabbits, geese, ducks, goats, and chickens that are being shown at the fair. Throughout the year, these young people have worked with their animals getting them ready for competition at the fair. Their hard work is paid off with ribbons and, if they are lucky, trips to the Minnesota State Fair.

But at times it seems like winning is almost secondary to the greater value of the comradery that develops between the participants. Through their years in 4-H young people develop lifelong friendships with others living outside their city, rural neighborhood, and school district. Those friendships are renewed each year at the county fair, or during 4-H events that bring them together from time to time.

In the process, kids learn responsibility. They learn the obligation of not just caring for the moment but day after day. In the process, they begin to learn more about the ways of their animal. While they might have been wary of it at first, it isn’t long before they establish a relationship based on a growing knowledge and familiarity.

If you don’t have an animal to work with, or the space to keep one, don’t worry. Through the 4-H program you can most likely adopt one. Farmers who work with the 4-H program and mentor city kids will have them come out to the farm to do chores and learn about their animal. They will be responsible for its care in many ways and be required to learn about its needs.

There are many other ways in which to become in 4-H that don’t require a person to have an animal. There are garden projects, photography, clothing projects, artworks, woodworking and much more.

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