Editor’s note: “A Better Life” is a weekly column by the USU Extension – Tooele Office that focuses on a variety of topics intended to enhance quality of life.
According to a study by researchers at Tufts University, youth who participate in programs through 4-H, the nation’s largest youth club, are less likely to do drugs, drink alcohol, or smoke cigarettes. They are also more likely to be civically active than kids who don’t participate in its programs.
In the last decade of the 19th century, educators saw the need to teach kids to appreciate rural life. The fundamental idea was to extend agriculture education to rural young people by organizing young people into clubs where they could learn by doing. The first out of school programs offered were soil, farm animals, tools, cookery, and housekeeping.
Because 4-H was originally formed as an agricultural organization, it still battles the perception that it’s mainly focused on farming. But the organization has many chapters in urban areas and now teaches young people public speaking, provides STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) education, and encourages community involvement.
Richard Lerner, head of the Tufts study, said that 4-H has changed with the times.
“Although it started for rural youth, the fact of the matter is there’s not that many rural youth left,” he said. “4-H has become an urban and suburban program.”
Today, 4-H offers a variety of activities that kids can engage “hands-on” in such as cooking, robotics, health, sewing, gardening, drones, Legos, science, photography and agriculture helping them to grow confidence, independence, resilience, and compassion. Young people from any ethnic or cultural background are eligible for this program. Children involved with 4-H are more likely to get good grades in school and move on to a college education.
The 4-H experience is delivered by a community of more than 100 public universities across the nation and countless volunteers.
“Adult volunteers provide a positive environment where kids learn by doing,” Lerner said. “The ability of an adult to pass on life skills is key. Whether a youth is learning urban gardening or public speaking, being able to apply these skills to real-life situations can keep the youth busy and away from making bad decisions.”
He added, “4-H hits on the three components of a successful youth program: It offers mentoring, skill building, and leadership opportunities for youth.”
Many local youth partake in area 4-H activities, like 2018 Miss Teen Tooele County Kendall Reidling. Here is her story.
“Even me, your Miss Teen Tooele County, participated in the Tooele County 4-H program,” said Kendall Reidling. “I was involved in courses such as sewing, cooking, life science, gardening, and photography. I developed many talents and became well educated in the ways I could better benefit my community, especially, at a young age.
“4-H is a great opportunity for the youth in our county to continue learning outside of the classroom,” she added, “to explore new subjects and gain effective habits that will bring success throughout their lives. With my platform of Embracing Alternative Forms of Education, 4-H was a great way for me to recognize my love for learning and to surround myself with peers that had the same desires as I did.
“My participation in 4-H effects me to this day, so much so that now I am pursuing a career as a freelance photographer,” Reidling said.
To join 4-H, register at 4-honline.com. You can call the USU Extension with any questions you may have at 435-277-2400.
Robyn Handley is a 4-H Volunteer/Teen Council Advisor at the USU Extension – Tooele County office, which is located inside the Tooele County Health Department Building, 151 N. Main, Tooele. She can be reached at 435-277-2402 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.