4-H is an oasis for thousands of youths across West Virginia.
This youth development program gives young people an opportunity to build
relationships, skills and experiences that last a lifetime. To recognize the
importance of 4-H, West Virginia University Extension joins in a celebration of
National 4-H Week October 2-8.
This year’s theme is “Opportunity4All.” In 2021, West Virginia 4-H reached more than 42,400 youths in all 55 counties through programs such as special interest clubs, STEM education, in-school activities, livestock projects and camping. Participants learn about a variety of topics, including health, citizenship, leadership and other important life skills.
“Across the nation, 4-H has made a commitment to ensuring that every child – no matter their race, religion, identity or background – has a safe space in our community,” Brent Clark, director of WVU Extension 4-H and Youth Development, said. “Here in West Virginia, it is important that we always welcome all young people to be a part of our 4-H program and continue to identify new programs that meet the needs of young people throughout the state.”
The National 4-H organization believes that talent is everywhere, but opportunity is not. 4-H offers youths the opportunity to create their own path, discover themselves and even find love.
Mia, a former Raleigh County 4-H’er and student at the WVU Eberly College of Arts & Sciences, has been a member of 4-H for as long as she can remember. She has been going to camp for just as long, completing her final camp this summer. Learning about life and finding out who you are as a young adult can be endlessly difficult, but she says 4-H gave her the opportunity to do just that.
“We’re all on our own journeys and growing, and we’re able to do that in a place that’s completely comforting and so full of love,” she said. “It’s open but it has that structure that allows us to figure ourselves out without putting a lot of stress or expectations on us. You just be you, and you’re loved for it.”
The 4-H program also allows for exploration, and that sometimes leads to a different path than expected.
Right before his high school graduation, Ethan, a native of Harrison County and a student in the Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources, got a call from his local Extension agent about becoming a STEM ambassador. Being a longtime 4-H’er wanting to pursue science in college, he immediately accepted.
“When I went to camp, I don’t even remember having a STEM ambassador, that wasn’t something on any camper’s radar, so it’s super cool to see that evolution of STEM,” Ethan said.
He always thought he wanted to pursue a career in computer science or biometrics, but he kept teaching in the back of his mind as a backup plan. Becoming a 4-H STEM Ambassador allowed him the opportunity to keep going to 4-H camp and having fun while also exploring a career path he wouldn’t have had the chance to otherwise.
“It’s very unconventional, the path I’ve taken in being a STEM ambassador,” he said. “If that call didn’t happen, I would’ve stopped going to camp two years ago when I aged out.”
4‑H is delivered by Cooperative Extension—a community of more than 100 public universities across the nation that provides experiences where young people from diverse backgrounds learn by doing. In West Virginia, one in every four youths is involved in 4-H. In 2021, West Virginia 4-H hosted 8,300 youths at county and state camps, providing more than $91,000 in camp scholarships. In addition to traditional camping and livestock activities, 4-H has expanded programming to include outdoor education and adventure activities; special interest clubs and camps; science, technology, engineering, art and math activities; and other engaging programs that provide them with a strong foundation for future education and career opportunities. Youths also learn about and in participate in valuable community service events in their communities and throughout the state.
Youths between the ages of 9 and 21 can join 4-H with a parent or guardian’s permission. Younger children, ages 5 to 8, who are interested in 4-H can join Cloverbuds, which focuses more on fun and social activities that set the stage for future learning. College-aged students also can join any of the seven collegiate 4-H clubs in West Virginia. To join a club or explore 4-H activities in your area, contact your local WVU Extension office.
“The 4-H program provides many opportunities and pathways for youth to grow confidence, independence, resilience, and compassion. We also offer safe environments where youth can have positive relationships with caring adult mentors,” Clark said.
To learn more about 4-H activities in your community and keep up with the latest in West Virginia 4-H news, follow @WestVirginia4H on Facebook and @wv_4h on Instagram.
If you want to learn more about WVU Extension, visit extension.wvu.edu or follow @WVUExtension on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Instagram.
CONTACT: Sydney Keener