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Hip at 100, 4-H Celebrates Centennial
Mark Zeigler stepped to the front of the fifth-grade Riverside Elementary School class in Suwanee, Ga. The curious students listened closely as he described fun field trips and community volunteer opportunities.


Photo: Faith Peppers

Riverside Elementary School students in Suwanee, Ga., volunteer to share their first choice in 4-H projects.

Zeigler, a Gwinnett County Extension Service agent, then taught the finer points of making a good speech. This was the class' first 4-H Club meeting, making them a part of the world's largest youth organization.

"Look over this form," Zeigler said, passing green and white sheets of paper around the room. "Write down a topic listed here that interests you."

After careful study, the children began to write.

"What did you see that you like?" Zeigler asked.

Not Cows and Plows

Hands popped up all around the room.

"Bike safety," one girl said.

"Dog care," a boy said.

"Horse," several others chimed in.

Not what you imagined as 4-H projects? As the 4-H Club turns 100 this year, it's still going strong. It's stayed that way by keeping up with the times, adjusting its program areas to fit the changing interests of America's young people.

It began in 1902 as a club to teach rural youths about agriculture and preserving food. 4-H now offers more than 7 million members the chance to learn more about projects ranging from the traditional (poultry, dairy, beef) to the not-so-traditional (computers, environmental science, consumer education.)


Photo: Faith Peppers

More than 1,100 4-H'ers and 4-H volunteers from across the nation gathered in Atlanta to kick off the Centennial Celebration of 4-H. They began the celebration doing community service projects at Art of the Season. They also brought more than 1,300 books for Children's Healthcare of Atlanta.

Leadership, Citizenship

Today's 4-H also focuses on developing leadership, citizenship and community service skills in America's youths.

"Today, more than ever, young people need to maximize their potential and develop their skills and knowledge to forge ahead into the 21st Century," said Alma Hobbs, deputy administrator for the Families, 4-H and Nutrition division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service.

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"Young people are often told they are the future," Hobbs said in a recent address to the 2001 National 4-H Congress in Atlanta. "Indeed they are the future, but they are also the present. The theme for the 4-H centennial celebration, '4-H The Power of Youth,' is a confirmation of both of these concepts."


Photo: Faith Peppers

Miss America 2002, Katie Harmon, works on a community service project at Art of the Season in Atlanta with Mississippi 4-H'er Terrence Johnson. The Christmas ornaments they are making were to be sent to military families whose loved ones are fighting in Afghanistan this holiday season.

Serve Communities

Hobbs challenged 4-H'ers from across the county to use their leadership and citizenship skills in their communities.

"You can get involved in public life as a citizen, being active to help fix problems, change the way things are done, have a say in what happens and advocate for youths and youth issues," she said. "You can get involved in community service."

During the congress, she praised the 4-H'ers attending the congress for bringing books to give to needy children and working at the 0013 Art of the Season 29FE , a fund-raiser for Children's Healthcare of Atlanta.

Power of Youth

Hobbs told the 4-H'ers they can provide service to their communities in a variety of ways: helping a food bank, collecting clothing, books and other items, cleaning up a park, adopting a grandparent, teaching technology skills and so much more."

"4-H The Power of Youth is a powerful phrase," Hobbs said. "It captures the essence of 4-H and the 4-H Pledge: 'I pledge my head to clearer thinking, my heart to greater loyalty, my health to better living and my hands to larger service to my club, my community, my country and my world.'"

To learn more about the 4-H Centennial Celebration, visit their Web site (www.4hcentennial.org).

(Faith Peppers is the director of public affairs with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

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