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4-H Clubs provide the tools that today's youth need to succeed By Arch D. Smith II

For over 172,000 young Georgians, the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension 4-H Program is a place where they can develop skills that they will use throughout their lives. At the beginning of October, 4-H members across the country will celebrate the experiences, knowledge and skills they’ve gained through their club during National 4-H Week, October 7-13.

In public and private schools across the state, Georgia’s county 4-H staff members provide fifth- through 12th-graders the chance to master public speaking and performance, attend summer camp, learn more about their communities, raise, show and judge livestock and focus on personal development through individual achievements, outdoor adventures and field trips.

The Georgia 4-H program gives young people the skills and confidence they need to further their education after high school and to grow into contributing members in a productive workforce and leaders in their communities.

Many notable Georgians attribute their success at least in part to the time they spent in 4-H. Jennifer Nettles, female vocalist for the popular duo Sugarland, has demonstrated the evaluation skills she learned in 4-H, selecting the top finalists in the new ABC singing competition show "Duets". Nettles is the second Georgia alumna to receive the National 4-H Alumni Medallion. Nancy Grace, CNN Headline News commentator, received the award in 2011.

“4-H was the first time I got to be around other kids like me – who had the same dreams and aspirations, who had the same hungers and drives, and that’s obviously in music,” Nettles said after winning the medallion. “But 4-H does that all over … 4-H is my favorite youth organization, and I will always lend my voice to 4-H.”

Adult 4-H’ers like Nettles are inspiring the next generation of 4-H’ers to use what they learn from 4-H to reach for their goals.

This past year, I met Lauren Tricksey, a senior 4-H member at Southwest DeKalb High School and DeKalb County 4-H president. She’s only been involved in 4-H for three years, but the program has given her the confidence she needed to speak in public – even to an audience of adults – and has given her the chance to meet people from across the state and from many different backgrounds.

“This is my third year of being a part of 4-H; in such a short period of time I’ve grown tremendously,” she said. “My only regret is not getting involved earlier. 4-H has served as a classroom outside of school for me, one full of interactive lessons and field trips. With the slogan “learning by doing … You see the person I am now, just imagine who and what I’d be had 4-H been introduced to me earlier.”

The Tufts University Study of 4-H Positive Youth Development showed that 4-H members are more motivated to continue their education and achieve higher levels of education at higher rates than children in general. In Georgia, where the statewide graduation rate is 68 percent, 91 percent of 4-H members graduate from high school. 4-H’ers also develop more of an interest in science, engineering and technology because they are exposed to these subjects outside of school at a young age.

During National 4-H Week, 4-H’ers across the country will participate in a science and engineering challenge on October 10 in honor of 4-H National Youth Science Day. They will build Eco-Bots – tiny robots made from household items such as a toothbrush and a cell phone motor – that will simulate a machine that could be used to clean up a toxic spill.

Members will also use 4-H Week as an occasion to showcase their work in the community. For the past decade, seventh and eighth graders in 4-H have collected and recycled pop tabs to raise funds for the Ronald McDonald House charity. This year alone, 4-H’ers have collected over 17 million pop tabs. This recycling effort shows 4-H members how we can conserve our natural resources, while teaching them the importance of giving back to their communities. The citizenship lessons that 4-H members learn during their time in the program stick with them over time. Studies have found that 4-H members are 3.3 times more likely than non-members to continue working in their communities as adults.

Anyone who has extra pop tabs and wants to contribute to the 4-H’ers collection efforts this year can drop off his or her pop tabs at their local county Extension office.

Another way Georgians can get involved with National 4-H Week is to pledge to walk at least one mile sometime during October 7-13. 4-H members and their families will be walking that week, and the National 4-H Council will be keeping records of how many people are walking with them. You can text 4HWALKS to 50-555 and include the number of people you walked with to be included in the tally. 4-H members, who are 2.3 times more likely to exercise than non-members, are hoping their pledge to walk will help get more Georgians exercising.

Georgia 4-H continues to have the best-trained and most well rounded county Extension agents, county 4-H program assistants and associates, subject matter specialists and volunteers working with the state’s 4-H’ers. All these individuals make the Georgia 4-H program one of the best 4-H programs in the United States.

Thanks again to those who support us with both private and public funds, and especially those who give of their personal time helping 4-H members "To Make the Best Better."

(Director of Georgia 4-H)

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