I remember in school constantly being asked, “what do you want to be in ten years?” We usually give answers like, “I’m going to be a veterinarian,” or “I want a big family,” or some other variation of our desired life circumstances. Looking back, I realize that I had an opportunity to give some answers that a lot of kids couldn’t. It’s not because I wanted some unique profession or anything, it’s because I was in 4-H. Here are 7 responses that I could have given because I was involved in 4-H:
- I will be a better communicator.
Almost every 4-H alumni I know of will tell you that public speaking is one of the most important life skills they gained from 4-H. From project demonstrations to speech contests to presenting bills to state legislators, 4-H give numerous opportunities for young people to enhance their speaking skills.Each time a 4-Her completes a record book, he or she must include a reference to a completed demonstration. This demonstration is an oral presentation about the project given to a group of peers, community members, or basically anyone other than the 4-Hers family. The great thing about these demonstrations is that they can be done on a small scale (in front of a 4-H club, for example), or on a larger scale (competing in county, district, state, or national contests). It’s a pretty good way to introduce kids to the concept of public speaking in a really welcoming environment.Speech contests are another way in which 4-H promotes the development of public speaking skills. Again, these can be at the local, district, state, or even national level. Generally, participants are given a topic in advance and prepare a more formal presentation than the project demonstration. The speech is given in front of a panel of judges and maybe even a group. The speeches are then scored, and awards are given to the various winners. A lot of times, winners move up to the next level and present their speech again in the state or national contests. Regardless of placement, speech contests help kids learn to prepare a formal presentation in a way that they can’t really get in school.
Another type of public speaking that some 4-Hers get the opportunity to participate in is the presentation of bills to state legislators. While this may not be available to all 4-Hers in every state, it certainly gives those lucky few a very unique chance to make positive changes in their communities. In Florida, for example, 4-Hers write a law or bill and present it at 4-H Legislature in Tallahassee. I’m sure colleges don’t see that on too many resumes.
- I will be a better leader.
The other life skill that so many 4-H alumni talk about is leadership. In 4-H clubs, just like lots of other groups, officers are selected. The President, Vice-President, Secretary, Treasurer, Reporter, and any other officers a club chooses to elect have very real responsibilities within the club. Each meeting is truly led by the youth using Parliamentary Procedure. They are the ones responsible for conducting business, and the adult volunteer leaders are there for support and to be a contact to the Extension Agent. The main officers are responsible for completing record books which document their club’s activities and business for the year. The Reporter is responsible for getting the word out about the club and its activities, as well as creating a record of non-business events. The Treasurer is responsible for keeping track of actual money and actual spending. If you haven’t sensed the theme yet, it’s that these kids have real responsibilities.Even 4-Hers who don’t become officers (many choose not to) still end up having leadership roles of some sort. Some 4-Hers teach workshops on their project to their peers. Some become teen counselors at Junior 4-H camps. Even if 4-Hers choose not to have a specified leadership role, they ultimately become mentors or role models to the younger members. Basically, 4-Hers don’t have much choice but to become a good leader, and that’s certainly not a bad thing.
- I will be more organized.
I know I’ve mentioned record books a couple of times now, but I’m going to say it again. These things really affect those life skills we learn in 4-H! A huge part of a record book is the financial record of every cent you have ever spent on the development of your project. Did you buy dog treats for your dog agility project? Did you get your pig vaccinated? Did you buy a pitchfork ten years ago that you now use to clean out your horse’s stall? You’ll have to record every one of those purchases and include depreciation over time. It gets complicated, it gets long, and it involves math. But every 4-Her does it, and every 4-Her benefits in the end.Outside of record books, completing any project that lasts the span of a year requires a person to have some amount of organization. Even school projects only last a month or two at most, and let’s be honest, most kids end up spending ten hours and staying up all night the day before it’s due. That is impossible with 4-H projects, though, because you can’t just decide to buy a chick and stay up all night raising it the day before the fair or make an entire quilt or woodworking project without putting in a lot of thought and time. Projects take planning, and good planning inevitably takes organization.
- I will be more prepared for college.
Unfortunately, good grades doesn’t really get you into college anymore. Extracurriculars and your character are increasingly more important when it comes to your college applications. 4-H is a wonderful thing to have on your resume because it is such a diverse program. It is one comprehensive organization that allows you to get involved in many, many different projects. Also, the skills listed above will be visible to the reviewers, and many times they will know previous students at the college or university to which you are applying who were also in 4-H and did well. Additionally, if you happen to be applying to a land-grant university, you’ll have the advantage of already being involved in one of the university’s major programs.Another huge part of being prepared for college is money. By participating in just one project’s scholarship opportunities, I was awarded around $5000 in scholarship funds for college. Imagine if I had done 5 projects or even more! There are so many different local, state, and national 4-H scholarships available, and the only major requirement is your involvement in 4-H. It is such an under-used resource, and I definitely wish more 4-Hers knew about it!
- I will be a better citizen.
I talked about 4-H clubs and how the Reporter is responsible for documenting non-business events. Some of the non-business events that clubs do together are social such as going bowling or playing sports together. However, the majority are service oriented. Hundreds, if not thousands, of 4-H clubs opt to participate in or host community service events throughout the year. From food drives to volunteering at the humane society to collecting toys for other kids at Christmas, 4-Hers are constantly helping their communities. One group of 4-Hers in Maine increased the property values of their community by over $9 million, and that was just from one service project they chose to do. Honestly, I could create an infinite list of the impacts 4-Hers have made because of their service projects. The best part is, they choose to do these projects themselves.
- I will know how to solve practical problems.
I already mentioned how projects require organization, but they also require problem solving skills. I don’t mean that they can “solve for x” in an algebra equation or list the symbols in whatever assigned reading they have (though these may be useful skills). I mean that they will be solving real problems, things that aren’t taught in school. I’ve always said that the only reason I know how to balance a checkbook or pay my bills is because my mom is a bookkeeper, not because I learned anything about being an adult in school. When completing projects, the kids are the ones in charge. Sure, parents could choose to just do everything for them, but that’s not the point. The 4-Her chooses what ingredients to use in their cooking project, what veterinarian to use for their animal, what they want to say in their record book story. It’s up to them, and they have a unique chance to make important decisions that a lot of other kids grow up not knowing how to do.
- I will be a better me.
4-H teaches kids so much about so many different aspects of themselves. It makes kids aware of where their food comes from, teaches them healthy nutrition and active lifestyles, and promotes diverse interests and hobbies. These kids are encouraged every day to try something new and learn something they know nothing about. These kids are provided with mentors who help guide them in the “right” direction, whether that be specifically towards science, arts, agriculture, and more, or just being a good person in general. These kids learn how to make healthy choices about what they eat and how to teach others to do the same. These kids are given opportunities to be active, go outside, and live. These kids are taught about diversity without even realizing it. I remember attending a teen leader adventure weekend as an adult volunteer, and I realized that these kids don’t care that the person sitting next to them is from the city or the country or that the kid across the room is a different color or that the kid in their cabin has an accent or anything else that might be “different.” To those kids, everyone in the room was a 4-Her, and that was all that mattered. 4-H really does “make the best better,” as the motto says.