Six million students across America participate in 4-H and, of those, more than 170,000 call Georgia home. To raise awareness of the state’s largest youth development organization, the week of Oct. 1-7 has been declared National 4-H Week.
The green four-leaf clover has long been identified with 4-H, as have the four ‘H’s: head, heart, hands and health. Members of 4-H pledge their head to clearer thinking, their heart to greater loyalty, their hands to larger service and their health to better living for their clubs, their communities, their country and their world. Participating youths develop life skills through hands-on projects involving volunteer work, health, science, engineering, technology, leadership, agriculture and communication.
Available to children in all of Georgia’s 159 counties, Georgia 4-H began as a club for kids familiar with farm life and has grown into an organization that helps youth become successful, confident adults. Today, 55.2 percent of Georgia 4-H’ers live in urban areas, 41.8 percent live in rural, nonagricultural settings and just 3 percent live on a farm.
No matter where they live, Georgia 4-H members say that 4-H helps them overcome being shy to become better public speakers, teaches them to be active in their communities, develops their leadership skills and opens the door for them to create lifelong friendships.
Georgia 4-H alumni include Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal, television host and legal commentator Nancy Grace and pop music artist Jennifer Nettles, all of whom acknowledge the significant and positive impact 4-H had on them as young people.
Future leaders include Georgia 4-H member Amelia Day, 18, of Fort Valley, Georgia. Day won the national 2017 4-H Youth in Action Award and a $10,000 scholarship for founding Operation: Veteran Smiles. At 13, she created the community service initiative that has now reached more than 4,000 veterans and engaged more than 6,500 volunteers nationwide to hand-deliver custom care packages, notes of encouragement and musical therapy to veteran patients.
Her project is just one of hundreds of community service projects Georgia 4-H’ers lead and participate in each year, from collecting pop tabs for Ronald McDonald House Charities to donating canned goods to food pantries across the state.
Under the umbrella of University of Georgia Cooperative Extension, Georgia 4-H programs are rooted in research from the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences (CAES) and other land-grant colleges across the nation. Georgia 4-H agents supplement teachers’ efforts by using after-school lessons and in-school curricula designed to meet Georgia Standards of Excellence.
“The idea of bringing UGA research and resources to Georgia students through the use of county agents throughout the state was a cutting-edge idea in 1904 and remains so even today,” said Arch Smith, state 4-H leader. “The most important work of 4-H is to help young people become better citizens and enable them to grow into responsible, active adults.”
Each year, more than 30,000 Georgia 4-H youth perform community service, conduct research, compile portfolios of their accomplishments and learn public speaking skills through oral presentations at 4-H District Project Achievement.
Georgia 4-H’ers also learn responsibility through livestock projects, programs and judging. Georgia 4-H partners with Georgia FFA and the UGA CAES Department of Animal and Dairy Science to provide these programs. Every year, close to 2,500 students complete a yearlong process to prepare more than 4,500 animals for exhibition at the Georgia Junior National Livestock Show and other competitions.
Georgia 4-H’s camping program hosts 8,500 youth ages 9 and up each summer at five 4-H camping centers located across the state. Enthusiastic and well-trained camp counselors, UGA Extension employees, and certified adult volunteer and teen leaders work together to provide campers with fun, engaging activities. Campers return home with a lifetime of memories and lasting friendships.