4-H Celebrates Growth of Members, Volunteers
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Reflecting on the successes of 2021, Caldwell County 4-H celebrates youth, volunteers and families in the community growing through their 4-H experiences.
At the beginning of 2021, a number of challenges were still associated with carrying out low-risk, in-person Extension programs due to COVID-19. Virtual program attendance in Caldwell County had been consistently poor during the end of 2020, as compared to around the start of the pandemic, yet the need to engage with youth in a meaningful way remained.
In an effort to engage with youth and teach them the importance of giving back, a challenge was set forth: Complete 40 Hours of Service during January to July 2021.
During the first three months of the challenge, project ideas would be shared with interested youth, and in turn they would track their service hours and begin to think about what other service projects they would like to complete while working toward their goal. This helped youth and families realize there were many pandemic-friendly projects that could be completed at home with low-cost materials.
As a result of the challenge, three 4-H members each met the 40 Hours of Service goal for a total of over 120 community service hours combined. This included, but was not limited to, the creation of 44 denim dog toys for a local pet rescue and the distribution of 60 joke books and 180 Valentine’s Day cards to senior citizens – many of whom were experiencing isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic.
One parent said of her son, who completed the challenge, “He has developed some permanent qualities that I’m so proud of – picking up trash, helping the neighbors, helping at home.”
Speaking of serving others, a Junior Leaders program used to be offered annually in Caldwell County for youth ages 13-18 through 4-H. It was a way for youth to practice leadership skills and develop personally.
In a nationwide 4-H survey conducted in 2020, 7 in 10 teens reported having experienced struggles with mental health. Leadership and personal development are two areas where teens can grow, feel empowered and make friends, combating these struggles.
A new “Junior Leaders” program was designed and implemented for youth ages 12-18 in Caldwell County for the summer of 2021. A training was held in May, and then they were ready to tackle what summer had in store for them.
Teens were able to practice time management by choosing which short-term programs they would like to volunteer with and be held accountable for keeping their schedule. They also learned to work with younger youth and be a role model.
All the youth who completed the program’s evaluation reported an increase in their knowledge, attitudes, skills, and/or aspirations regarding leadership. Nine finished the summer in good standing, meaning they exhibited responsibility, reliability and cooperation throughout the summer.
Junior Leader participants, reflecting on their summer, said the program opened their eyes to how they could be a leader in their local community. They also reported gaining communication skills and feeling more confident in their leadership abilities. Another benefit they identified was being able to build healthy relationships with other teens through the program.
In one word, a teen summarized Junior Leaders as “Awesome!”
Since the summer, several of these teens have continued to stay connected with one another and volunteer with 4-H in other capacities, demonstrating an eagerness to serve their community. They are developing a regular practice of serving others through these experiences and actions.
Junior Leader applications for summer 2022 will first be available in February, and no prior experience with 4-H is required.
Finally, 4-H also celebrates overall growth in membership. 4-H participation increased from 124 youth in 2020 to 342 youth in 2021. Of that, 103 were members of 4-H Clubs in 2021. That is an increase from 81 members in 2020 and 76 members in 2019.
To join 4-H, learn about clubs and programs or sign up for 4-H camp, contact Caldwell County’s Extension center at 828-757-1258. Families may also email county 4-H agent Sarah Kocher at email@example.com.