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4-H Still Strong and Changing with Times


Rick Boston

State Sen. Judy Ward joins 4-H students Dakota Pasnett, Jillian Williams, Isabella Anderson, Austin Longnecker and Ayla Hileman as Capri Stiles-Mikesell, an instructor with Penn State Extension, discusses digital mapping.

Since 1902, the 4-H Club has been attracting kids aged 8 to 18 who want to learn while enjoying the teamwork of like-minded people.

With more than six million members nationwide and 160 in Blair and Huntingdon counties, 4-H has remained a consistently strong organization with a commitment to teaching skills that kids will carry with them through life.

That commitment was on display at the Williamsburg Community Center on Thursday, April 25, as 60 4-H members participated in the A.B. Ross Leadership Program sponsored by State Sen. Judy Ward.

The A. B. Ross program was started by Ward's predecessor, Sen. John Eichelberger. Each year 4-H participants study a different subject matter. This year's lesson was focused on manure management, clean water, conservation of resources and digital mapping.

Ward said putting the program together takes a concerted effort between a group of dedicated 4-H leaders.

"We have phenomenal 4-H leaders who all work together to put together a program and it is fantastic," She said.

The students learned manure management practices and the role it plays in a sustainable agriculture program, digital mapping of farms and the workings of waste management systems. They also took a trip to the Penn-England Farm in Williamsburg to see how these lessons are put into practice.

Ward said that the kids in the 4-H program are the ones who will be leading agriculture into the future and that programs like this prepare them for it.

"These are the people we will depend on to keep our agriculture industry going in the future," she said. "What a great way to talk about things they can do on their own farms, in their own worlds and be educated on and thinking about what they can do for their farms."

While 4-H is primarily associated with farming, the club offers many different programs to attract kids who may have interests outside of agriculture and livestock. From cooking to crafts, engineering and robotics, 4-H offers a variety of opportunities for kids to get involved.

Kristy Bigelow, program assistant for Penn State Extension, which oversees the 4-H club, said the goal of 4-H is to teach kids the skills to transition into productive adults.

"Our goal, no matter what program the kids take, we want them to gain the skills to be successful adults. It's all about teaching them the skills to network and mature," she said.

Bigelow grew up on a farm in Williamsburg and said her time in 4-H taught her things she didn't even realize until after she had aged out of the program.

"The 4-H program gave me my start," she said. "For me, public speaking set it apart. I didn't realize until I got to college and I saw kids having trouble with public speaking, but because of what I learned in 4-H I was ahead of it."

Bigelow said that in this age of iPods and smartphones that have contributed to the dwindling numbers in a lot of programs, 4-H remains strong.

"Parents see the value of the program and as the kids get older they see the value and it makes them want to stay in it," she said. "I think it's hard to find another program that does everything 4-H does for them."

Christine Corl, program director at Penn State Extension, was a member of 4-H while growing up and now her two children are involved with the club. And although she did not live on a farm or raise animals, she said the skills she learned in 4-H, and the opportunities it gave her made her want to stay with it.

"I didn't live on a farm," she said. "I didn't do animals, I did sewing, cooking and was an officer and camp counselor in my club. The leadership opportunities and the skills it taught me is what kept me in 4-H."

Corl said that the kids attending Thursday's program will learn skills that they will take with them into the world and in turn be in a position to educate others.

"In this world we live in there is so much poor information out there," she said. "But if you have kids sit through some of these educational opportunities then they become educated citizens. Just becoming a better citizen and having those well-rounded life skills that are going to help them succeed, and help others."

Ward said looking out over the group of kids make her confident that the future of agriculture, which is so important to the district she serves, is in good hands, and said 4-H is a big reason for that.

"When I look at these young people, I think the future of farming in our area is in good hands," she said. 'And that is part of what this program is designed to do."


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