More than 44,000 West Virginia youth are already benefiting from the learning experiences, leadership opportunities and fun activities 4-H has to offer. Thanks to the West Virginia University Extension Service, students in all 55 counties have opportunities to attend 4-H camps, clubs and educational programs throughout the year.
The youth organization, which is made possible by government funding and the WVU Extension Service, helps kids develop skills dealing with their “head, hearts, hands and health.”
The program is open to anyone and absolutely free, but those aren’t the only reasons to join an organization whose past members include former Vice President Al Gore, country singer Faith Hill and NFL athlete Reggie White, as well as local well-known’s like former WVU President David Hardesty.
“Every person joins for their own reason,” said Bill Beckley, assistant program director for 4-H Youth Development and WVU Extension camping specialist. “There are as many reasons as there are people.”
While 4-H programs of the past have focused on agriculture and farming, today’s 4-H programs are more diverse, exposing kids to concepts in science, engineering, technology, citizenship and healthy lifestyles. Club members may also learn about higher education opportunities and even be eligible for scholarships given by the WVU Extension Service.
Statewide organizers say the 4-H program helps kids develop knowledge and skills needed in the real world with exciting activities and interesting projects.
“I think the skills we teach in 4-H are the skills we need in society,” Beckley said. “But that’s not why kids are going to join. They’re going to join to have fun and be with their friends, we just teach them something in the process.”
Unlike other programs around the nation, West Virginia 4-H recruits members up to age 21 with collegiate clubs that are more self-directed than the middle or high school clubs. Younger members have the opportunity to participate in afterschool programs or summer programs like Energy Express, which aims to provide further education to kids while school is out of session.
Past teen members of 4-H have defined the experience as “a community of young people across the United States learning citizenship, leadership and life skills,” according to Beckley. Other aspects of the program include service projects, community activities and 4-H events like summer camp.
Beckley advised that kids join 4-H with their friends, saying “the key to success” with 4-H is involvement with others in the club.
“Find a friend and become involved (together),” he said. “Make sure you’re involved with the people you want to be involved with and you’re doing it with your friends.”
Anyone between the ages of 9 and 21 can join 4-H with a parent or guardian’s permission. Younger kids who are interested in the practices of 4-H can start at age 7 in the Cloverbud program, which focuses more on fun and social activities that set the stage for future learning.
Talk to a teacher about starting a 4-H club if there isn’t already one in the area, or contact the local office of the WVU Extension Service.