Inspire kids to do. This command gives adults and others instruction on how to motivate you. The phrase is also the theme for National 4-H Week, Oct. 7-13. Anyone who knows one of the 219 enrolled Box Butte County 4-H’ers can attest to how much they do throughout the year.
Ashley Fenning is the 4-H assistant in Box Butte County. She knows the program well after spending 10 years as a member in Morrill County. She raised sheep and beef.
There are 10 clubs in Box Butte County with 30 or more adult volunteers. Fenning said there are probably more as some are “one and done” where they may help with a single show or event. The more than 200 members generated 650 static projects this past year. Some of the livestock totals were more than 100 pigs, 20 sheep, 35 goats and 45 market beef.
Sign up for the organization can be accomplished by stopping by the Extension Office at 415 Black Hills Ave. in Alliance. They have club and leader information, information sheets and project lists as well. The fee is $10. Also, enroll and register for events online visit ne.4honline.com.
One of the week’s activities is a coloring contest for grades K-3. This week and next some of the clubs are organizing their own activities. The Jr. Leaders cub has been meeting to prepare for the Harvest Moon Festival at the fairgrounds in Hemingford Oct. 13. “Hopefully kids wear 4-H shirts too school,” Fenning said.
Perhaps the easiest way to learn about 4-H is through a friend who is a member. Fenning makes an effort to into schools and tell children about it. “Some kids don’t know what it is,” she said. Reaching older youth is not as easy. Fenning said she I still trying pinpoint the best way to get into the high school and talk to junior high age students.
When children enroll supports the attract them while they’re young philosophy. Fenning said most kids join between the ages of 8 and 10. “Some join later or try new projects,” she said. Why older youth join and their timeline (has a packed schedule lightened up?) are important to what they hope to gain from a few years in 4-H.
Retention has more to do with families. Fenning explained, “A lot of times 4-h members are part of families that have done 4-H.”
August highlights 4-H for the general public at the county fair. The program hosts numerous programs throughout the year. Fenning said they plan to do a new project in November — geo cache. “We’re always trying to do new things in summer workshops.”
Static exhibits at fair are only part of what members may choose from. The current catalog lists more than 150 projects. “There’s a whole range of things kids can do,” Fenning said. “If they have no clue, they can go on the website.” The Extension Office does have curriculum books for projects. Anyone interested should ask Fenning.
A few projects are county only, meaning they cannot advance to state fair. Leatherwork, some Cooking 101 and rope making are included.
The 4-H building shifts from year to year with its combination and number of exhibits. Thirty years ago what appeared to be a squadron of rockets demanded attention. Today one or two stand on the launch pad. Environmental exhibits are minimal and a visitor would be hard pressed to locate robotics, electronics, electricity and entrepreneurship. “Some are areas we need to focus and get kids involved,” Fenning said.
Popular projects have gained steam over the years. Cookie jars were once overshadowed by cakes. The imaginative jars now occupy an entire corner of the building. Swine, followed by meat goats, fill the show ring. Photography has held steady with a few more exhibitors over the years. Foods and clothing are other popular areas.
While a casual observer may not notice or be interested, Fenning described an information sheet. Serving to shorted the 4-H’er interview it tells the judge about the project though they still ask questions. The sheet remains on the exhibit over the week for anyone interested in knowing a little more.
Projects are often an individual endeavor with some help from family. A club may also help. Often a specialized club assists with that project, such as a canine club practicing with members and preparing them for shows.
Clubs can be short-term. A sewing club, taught by Natasha Schumacher and Susan Banks, met on Tuesdays throughout the summer. “Most of the projects at fair were because of that group,” Fenning said.
Another volunteer ran a livestock judging club. They went to events in Nebraska, Wyoming and Colorado.
Staying in 4-H for a decade offers ample to try a range of projects and see what the program has to offer otherwise. A built in advancement continues to challenge 4-H’ers. “Should reach out and test yourself,” Fenning said. Photography and woodworking include levels 1-3. Clothing also has levels.
For youth in 4-H for a decade or so and their shorter-term peers what will they take from the experience. Fenning has seen some return as volunteers, one worked with members shooting trap. From the Livestock Judging Club, 4-H’ers are pursing the activity at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. She noted 70 percent learn new things and 65 percent set new goals.
A lot of kids are willing to help others, she said. “4-H can benefit kids in the long-term.”