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McKee: 4-H members are the true exhibits of the programís success
Guest Opinion
Itís county fair time in Indiana and at each fair hundreds of 4-H exhibits are on display. However, what you donít see are the many 4-H members that are the true 4-H ďprojectsĒ.

The 4-H Youth Development Program focuses on developing young people. 4-H provides members opportunities that allow them as individuals to attain a sense of belonging, mastery, independence, and generosity. I would like to share with you just a few insights into the true value of 4-H through some of the members I know.

The skills taught in creating 4-H projects are the foundation for the youth development that occurs in the 4-H program. Learning about aerospace technology, computers, forestry, sewing or photography can be of economic, social and personal benefit to youth.

By participating in 4-H projects and activities, members explore possibilities for future careers. Dustin Potts of Warrick County is now a junior at Purdue University majoring in landscape architecture. His interest in this field piqued after he participated in the 4-H Plant Science Workshop several years ago.

Working in clubs through 4-H strengthens and reinforces social skills that allow youth to co-exist and thrive with others in society. 4-H members learn early on the value of cooperation in their project work and activities. Sarah and Julia Wickert, both of Starke County, became involved in Collegiate 4-H once they entered Purdue. They have a passion for helping others, much in the same manner that they themselves were helped through 4-H. This desire to connect with others drives them as they serve as regional leaders in the Collegiate 4-H organization and as 4-H volunteers with a Tippecanoe County after-school program.

Organizational skills, patience and group dynamics are key traits learned that become priceless assets to youth as they mature into contributing adults in society. Youth also assume leadership positions in 4-H programs that allow them to take responsibility and make decisions that were once solely handled by adults. Tyler Cotterman of White County exemplifies the leadership skills learned through the 4-H program. Tyler has participated as a member of the State 4-H Jr. Leader Council where he is an articulate ambassador for 4-H. With much energy and willingness to serve, he joined with other teens from across the state to plan, organize and instruct at the State 4-H Jr. Leader Conference that is focused on leadership development.

Young people are not just the leaders of tomorrow - they have great potential for responsible leadership today. Many 4-H teens statewide serve as members of local 4-H councils or fair boards where they are able to present a youth voice and perspective as program decisions and plans are made.

Learning to give of their time, talents and treasures for the benefit of others is part of every 4-H memberís experience. Community service projects allow 4-H members to see that their efforts to help others are important and valuable contributions to their locale. Youth learn that they do not live in a secluded world, but instead live in a global community, which requires awareness and compassion for others.

For example, 4-H members from across the state have worked over the past year to assemble and distribute nearly 1,500 ďHero PacksĒ to children whose parents have been recently deployed to military service. In Fountain County, 4-H youth are actively involved in the annual Relay for Life to benefit the American Cancer Association.

Thousands of 4-H members are busy putting final touches on projects that exemplify what theyíve learned this past year. Much of this work will be displayed and judged at the county and state fairs. Regardless of the ribbon placing they receive on an exhibit, I hope that we all remember that the best exhibit produced in the 4-H Youth Development Program is the individual 4-H member.

-Renee McKee
Assistant Director, Purdue Extension & State 4-H Program Leader

This farm news was published in the June 21, 2006 issue of Farm World, serving Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee.

6/21/2006