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4h: Seizing The Century

4-H marks its 100th anniversary by showing how its diverse membership would
influence the nation

America needs more youth involved in local and national
governments, say adults and young people across Kentucky.

At meetings last fall in nearly all of the state’s
120 counties, more than 3,000 representatives of youth organizations met to
talk about the future of their communities. This month they plan to present
the results of those "Conversations" to President Bush and members
of Congress at the national 4-H conference. In February Kentucky 4-H members
presented Gov. Paul Patton with the results of a state Conversations session.

The Conversations project represents 4-H’s unique
twist on celebrating the 100th anniversary of one of the largest youth organizations
in the country.

Many people know 4-H for its members who raise farm
animals. But its practice of "learning by doing" also involves teen
leadership, public speaking, and community service in both rural and urban communities.
The Conversations events across the country bring those elements together to
help shape the future of America.

Participants in the Conversations sessions last October
were asked: "Within the next three to five years, what are the most important
actions we can take to create the future we want for you, ourselves, and our

One of the young people invited to plan the Conversations
was 15-year-old Deepa Sheth, a freshman at DuPont Manual High School in Louisville.

"I thought the Conversations idea was awesome.
It’s nice for youth to have a say and a chance to participate," says Sheth,
who competes in 4-H public speaking.

Miguel Carlin also received an invitation to join
the Conversations. Carlin lives on a farm in Union and attends Larry A. Ryle
High School as a senior. The Boone County resident serves on the National 4-H
Youth Directions Council as a representative to Kentucky, and attended the national
4-H conference in Washington, D.C., last year.

Sheth says her Conversations ideas included "mentoring
programs for children. Youth could serve on city boards as youth representatives
to understand about city government and gain leadership. This could open a lot
of doors for youth. Another suggestion is job shadowing, which would provide
various options to help youth develop their future. It will open their minds
to different career paths and opportunities outside of school."

Carlin says he "talked about the importance
of youth and adult partnerships in their individual communities to work for
the betterment of youth. I hope that people see the benefit of these Conversations
and pull together their resources to apply what they have learned to work in
their own communities."

Carlin continues, "Another of my ideas was to
work on marketing volunteerism in each community. Go to the youth and present
them with opportunities to volunteer."

Not only does Carlin believe in volunteering, he
does it. Besides 4-H, he works at a hospital volunteering for the American Red
Cross, belongs to a group of teens who volunteer on projects for the United
Way Youth Action Council of Greater Cincinnati, and participates in programs
for disabled people in the Inclusion Network of Cincinnati.

For her part, Sheth says, "I love to volunteer
and want to get more involved. I am part of a group that visits residents in
a local nursing home. Also, I did a service project where I organized a toys
and clothing drive for underprivileged Navajo children living on a reservation.
In 2000, I earned a Bronze Honor in 4-H for promoting 4-H and community service.
This year I plan to complete my Silver Honor and then begin work on the Gold

The 4-H centennial celebration also encourages this
kind of volunteerism.

Dr. Haven Miller from the Agricultural Communications
Services of the University of Kentucky says the "Power of Youth Pledge
Campaign" urges adults and youth to make formal pledges to participate
in leadership and community service activities. The campaign asks 4-H members
and non-members to help in activities such as cleaning up litter, aiding the
elderly, and collecting food for the hungry. By the end of January more than
1,000 pledges committed to nearly 50,000 hours of service in Kentucky. Anyone
can pick up a pledge card at local county Extension offices.

Deepa Sheth and Miguel Carlin say that volunteering,
the Conversations initiative, and other 4-H programs made huge differences in
their lives. The latest difference came February 27-March 2, when they traveled
to Washington, D.C., to represent Kentucky at the national Conversations meeting.

An admitted city girl, Sheth says, "I joined
4-H at school when I was in the fifth grade and did arts and crafts and cooking.
I also enjoy doing communication events, so 4-H has been a help to me in school.
By the time I was in the seventh grade, I was enrolled in an eight-week Toastmasters

Last fall Sheth could be heard on local radio promoting
Conversations events. She says, "4-H reaches out to anyone at any age."

Carlin’s parents are involved in 4-H, as were his
older brother and sister. But there are other reasons for his high level of
participation, especially in teen leadership projects.

He says, "As far as speaking before groups,
I would have been as shy as all get out if it were not for the 4-H programs.
I like the people in 4-H. I have been in a lot of organizations, but I have
been in 4-H the longest. The reliability of the 4-H leaders and Extension staff
has been the key to my success. The projects are educational, because even if
you don’t win, you learn something from them."

4-H Facts

  • More than 245,000 Kentucky youth, ages 9 to 19, participate in 4-H.
  • Nearly 7 million youth are involved in 4-H programs annually
  • Motto: To make the best better
  • Every county in Kentucky has at least one University of Kentucky county
    Extension agent for 4-H, since 4-H is a part of the UK Cooperative Extension
  • More than 40 percent of the youth participating in 4-H live in urban areas,
    while only 17 percent actually live on farms
  • Besides the traditional agricultural areas, 4-H programs also focus on leadership
    development, workforce preparation, community service, and environmental stewardship
  • For information on Kentucky 4-H, call (859) 257-5961 or visit the Web site
  • National 4-H Council Web site is

Kentucky Conversations

On January 8 more than 500 adults and young people
gathered at eight sites around the state to figure out ways Kentucky can improve
the future for youth.

The event completed another step in the national
4-H "Conversations" project celebrating the organization’s 100th anniversary.
The program began in the fall with 115 county Conversations focusing on community
issues. The January 8 sessions brought the discussion to a state level. Each
county sent two adults and two young people to spend most of the day identifying
ways to improve the development of young people. The groups came together at
the end of the day in a teleconference.

Recommendations in the January 8 statewide Conversations
event included:

  • Youth need to be involved in the planning and decision-making processes
    of school boards and of state and local governments
  • Create youth centers (with homework help and hotlines available) and safe
    havens for vulnerable youth
  • Businesses in both public and private sectors should offer volunteer time
    off during business hours to their employees
  • Educate youth about the responsibilities, duties, and rights of citizens
    in a community
  • Establish a cabinet-level position for youth development
  • Make community service a component of public high school curricula
  • Parenting and child development classes should be offered to parents to
    help them build skills conducive to positive youth development and parental

Some of the participants in the January 8 statewide Conversations event included:

  • Miss Kentucky Monica Hardin opened the statewide teleconference
  • Discussion groups recorded their ideas for the final state report
  • Jessamine County 4-H member Abigail Carman
  • Joanna Howerton during a discussion of youth and community transportation
  • Fayette County 4-H agent David Foye
  • Fayette County 4-H member LeAundra Murray served as recorder for one of
    the discussion groups
  • Mahjabeen Rafiuddin of Lexington’s Youth Leadership Academy led a discussion
    on improving communication between young people and adults

4-H People

Around Kentucky 4-H members, officers, and volunteers
make up the state organization that serves 245,000 members. Here are three of
those people:

Sarah Back-4-H president

Growing up in Blackey, a Letcher County town in southeastern
Kentucky, Sarah Back spent the past 11 years in 4-H. Now a University of Kentucky
freshman majoring in philosophy and theater, Back is the president of Kentucky

"A lot of my time has been involved in 4-H,
which I feel has turned into one of the best youth leadership programs in the
nation," says Back. "I enjoy the horticulture projects, but my favorite
area is communications, doing demonstrations in photography or scrapbooking
and giving speeches. Each year that I do a speech, it becomes easier and easier.
You learn things from other people when you compete."

Michael Siebold-4-H member

For the past six years, Michael Siebold of rural
Calloway County has been a 4-H member. The 15-year-old Eagle Scout, who is home-schooled,
calls 4-H "a fun way to supplement an education-definitely a good experience."

Siebold especially enjoys the 4-H curriculum areas
of woodworking, geology, citizenship, electricity, public speaking, and demonstrations.
In 2001, he went to state competition and won an award for a speech and demonstration
on how to build a bat habitat. Besides placing fifth in a state bicycle rodeo,
Siebold was asked to be a part of the poultry judging team. Outside of 4-H,
Siebold fences and plays basketball and soccer.

Sherrie Holbrook-4-H volunteer

Murray resident Sherrie Holbrook is an adult volunteer
for 4-H in Calloway County. Though her teenage son participates in 4-H, Holbrook
says, "I volunteer for 4-H because I am very involved with youth and 4-H
offers more public interaction and produces better citizens overall."

She also volunteers with other groups, such as Community
of Promises, Youth Summit, and a youth center named Team Stream. Holbrook, who
enjoys working with 4-H and the various groups as they interact with each other,
says, "The purpose of the groups is to get the students to mix out of their
comfort zone. What I noticed about the kids who participated in the Conversations
was that they were always more concerned about the needs of the community than
about individual desires."

A brief history of 4-H

4-H began in the early 1900s when progressive
educators started to emphasize the needs of young people and to introduce nature
study as a basis for agricultural education. Public support grew with rural
parents acting as volunteer leaders and county Extension agents providing materials.
In 1911, 4-H club leaders approved the now-familiar four-leaf clover emblem,
representing the four H’s of Head, Heart, Hands, and Health. Today the program,
with more than 45 million alumni, operates through a partnership of volunteer
leaders, state land-grant universities, state and local governments, and the
Cooperative State Research, Educational and Extension Service of the U.S. Department
of Agriculture.

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