Start Them Young
Audrey Hepburn once said, “As you grow older you will discover that you have two hands, one for helping yourself and one for helping others.” Although when it comes to helping others, in 4-H, we don’t wait to grow older; we implement community service with our youth members as often as possible. As 4-H members recite the 4-H pledge, they are reminded of this, “I pledge…my hands to larger service…For my club, my community, my country, and my world.”
What We Do
Throughout the 4-H year, youth come together countywide in community service projects. For instance, Soda Pop Top Collection has 4-H members asking all their friends and family to save their pop tops. This annual community service tradition allows our youth to serve kids they will never meet. “How, then, does that help our youth?” you may ask. Because our own 4-H leaders and volunteers take the time to teach their 4-H members the importance of these tabs. After collection ends, the tabs are taken to the Ronald McDonald House in Jacksonville, where the staff takes the tabs to be recycled and receive money which helps pay their electric bill. Keeping the electricity on at the Ronald McDonald House provides numerous families a place to stay when they may already be struggling with the expenses of their child’s illness. After hearing and understanding their purpose, our kiddos and their families brought in 417 pounds of tops this year. They have already set a goal to double it next year!
We end the year teaming up with Project Praise. This year we sponsored 13 children who otherwise may have woken up to a Christmas with no gifts. 34 youth and numerous adult volunteers came out to our December County Council meeting, where clubs and individuals wrapped gifts and prepared them for Project Praise to pick up and deliver to families in need.
Why We Do Community Service in 4-H
These are just two of the community service projects our kids enjoy. However, we have plenty more to offer as we recognize the importance of community service in the lives of our 4-h members. The University of Nevada Extension (Latham, 2003) noted that youth said, “The benefits received from volunteering are: Learning to respect others; learning to be helpful and kind; learning to understand people who are different; developing leadership skills, becoming more patient, and better understanding of citizenship.” Teens also felt volunteering helped them gain essential job skills and experience while exploring career options.
Youth who volunteer just one hour or more a week are 50% less likely to abuse alcohol, cigarettes, become pregnant, or engage in other destructive behavior (Latham, 2003). They are also more likely to do well in school, graduate, and vote. So, the next time you drive down by the St. Johns River and see a bunch of kids in green shirts doing a clean-up, just know that Putnam County 4-H is working to make the best better and impact future generations for years to come.