I Pledge My Head…

If you can finish the rest of that phrase, high-10 to you!!  For everyone else, here’s the whole thing:

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.

     That, ladies and gentlemen, is the 4-H pledge, which every 4-H’er learns at their first 4-H club meeting, and which they can recite their whole life long.  There are quite a few promises made in that pledge.  Due to the nature of the kids participating in 4-H, it often means a lot to each individual, and will give shape to their character and future.

     And now, I will tell you all about the awesomeness that is the 4-H program.  I may be partial, since I participated in the 4-H program for 10 years, but it is one of the best programs for teaching youth to be responsible, hard-working, community-minded, ethical people.

An early women’s 4-H club
     The 4-H program began over 100 years ago when rural youth technology programs started becoming popular as a way to infuse new ideas and methods in to the agricultural community by teaching the youth, who were more accepting of change than the older generation. Community clubs were organized to bring together public and private resources, and to create a network of participants. One such program, called “The Tomato Club” or “Corn Growing Club” was created in Clark County, Ohio by A.B. Graham in 1902, and is considered to be the birth of the 4-H program.

     Soon after, Douglas County, Minnesota saw the formation of after-school agriculture clubs and fairs. The 4-leaved clover insignia with an H on each leaf was created by Jessie Shambaugh in 1910, and by 1912, the nickname 4-H had been given to the agricultural clubs. In 1914, the USDA (United States Dept. of Agriculture) Cooperative Extension System, which now governs the 4-H program, was created by Congress to support these youth agriculture clubs.

A 4-H rocketry club gets ready to set some off

     Today, 4-H serves youth in rural, urban, and suburban communities in every state across the nation. Youth currently in 4-H are tackling the nation’s top issues, from global food security, climate change and sustainable energy to childhood obesity and food safety.  4-H out-of-school programming, in-school enrichment programs, clubs and camps also offer a wide variety of science, engineering, technology and applied math educational opportunities – from agricultural and animal sciences to rocketry, robotics, environmental protection and computer science – to improve the nation’s ability to compete in key scientific fields and take on the leading challenges of the 21st century.

     More than 6 million 4-H youth in urban neighborhoods, suburban schoolyards and rural farming communities currently participate in 4-H programs of some sort.  4-H promotes a “learn by doing” method of education, and as a result, 4-H’ers are more likely to get better grades, plan to go to college, less likely to engage in risky behaviors, and are more likely to positively contribute to their family and community.  4-H leaders are all volunteers, with more than 540,000 working to support the youth in their communities.  They are supported by 3,500 Extension employees that offer many resources, and are backed up by over 60 million 4-H alumni, spread across the world!  This is a HUGE program! 

I cried every year when it came time to sell my pig

     Wherever you may live, there is probably a 4-H program working to empower the youth in your area.  If you’re in a rural area, the majority of the 4-H clubs will probably be focused on agriculture and animal-related projects, while 4-H clubs in urban areas will probably have more programs like sewing, rocketry, film-making, photography, leadership or computers.

     There are also additional programs and conferences available to teach leadership skills (Teen Conference), to introduce 4-H’ers to the political process (Know Your Government), to excel in public speaking (County and District Contests), and many other options to expand and explore your abilities beyond your individual projects. In all 4-H programs, participants usually keep records, manage finances, prepare a demonstration or public talk and present it to their club or in a contest, and to present their record books and project at their local fair.

     I spent 10 years in the 4-H program, and loved every minute of it.  I raised pigs, horses, chickens, and also completed sewing, veterinary science, and teen leadership projects.  I went to 4-H camp as a kid, to Teen Conference, to leadership retreats, was a Camp Counselor, and generally had a blast.  I learned how to keep records, to budget expenses, to raise animals, to run a 4-H meeting, to prepare and give public talks, and so much more.  It is one of the best programs for teaching youth how to become responsible, civic-minded adults, and is one that really should receive more attention and accolades for the important work it accomplishes!

     If you have young children or even teens, I encourage you to look into 4-H programs in your area, and get your kids involved!  It is an experience that will shape their lives for the better!

     To find out more about 4-H or to find programs in your area, check out these links:
http://www.4-h.org/
http://4-hhistorypreservation.com/History/M-C-P/

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