Stretching from Clark County, Ohio to more than 80 countries around the world, 4-H is celebrating a century of striving "to make the best better."
Growing from A. B. Graham's humble Clark County youth program of 1902, known as the "tomato" or "corn growing" club, 4-H has grown to become the nation's largest youth development organization.
Although Graham's club is recognized as the birth of the 4-H program, the distinctive clover with an "H" on each leaf was the work of Jessie Field Shambaugh in 1910 and the 4-H club name wasn't used until 1912, a century ago this year. The first Pennsylvania program started the same year in Mercer County and it wasn't long before Warren County boasted it's own 4-H program.
Times Observer file photo
Promoting local growers
4-H participants learn, share, and do a little teaching of their own throughout the year, such as these youngsters pointing out the benefits of buying locally produced food.
Warren County 4-H was officially established in 1920 and today boasts more than 20 different clubs, over 150 distinct projects in over a dozen different fields and includes more than 260 youths in traditional clubs across the county. In 2011, county 4-H reached over 1000 young people either directly or through 9 schools totaling 14 participating classrooms. Warren 4-H's summer programs served approximately 100 youths per week through a number of science projects and the county's extensive 4-H program is supported by a network of more than fifty volunteers.
The programs available through 4-H in Warren County have changed with the changing interest of county youths. The original purpose of 4-H was to teach the rural youth population of 1912 the advantages of rural life at a time when 90% of young people living on farms planned to leave following their educations. Today's county programs run the gamut from traditional farming and sewing programs to small engine repair and robotics groups. the oldest currently active club in Warren County is the Sugar Grove Ruff Riders who have maintained a horse-related program since 1955.
The Keystone Connection program is just one of the many programs county youths can take advantage of through 4-H. Through connection, offered to young people aged 13 to 18, participants can enter a two-year exchange program with 4-H members in other states. Founded with a grant from R. J. Nabisco in 1988, connections allows participants to spend a year staying with another 4-H family in their home state and, in turn, host those they stayed with the alternating year.
According to connections volunteer Dianna Sleeman, "It's an experience. They (participants) actually become like a family member with that host family or student." She continued, "I know 4-H is a very good program. It's taught a lot of kids responsibility, a lot about themselves."
Both Warren County Commissioner Stephen Vanco and his wife Sheryl have participated in the program both as youth members and as volunteering adults and stress the core values 4-H teaches.
"It's an alternative to sports that carries through the summer months. It gets people from different ends of the county together and helps the kids meet and co-mingle." said commissioner Vanco.
Mrs. Vanco stressed the program teaches basic responsibility, leadership and social skills at all levels saying, "the project work is the core of it, that's what teaches the responsibility."
Both pointed out the wide range of programs 4-H encompasses. The Vancos cited electrical and small engine clubs which have existed in Warren County at various times.
"A lot of things 4-H does people don't realize, anything you can basically think of that there is an interest in." stated commissioner Vanco. A 4-H club can be formed around most interests as long as there are five youths interested in becoming members.
Mrs. Vanco, who has participated as both a youth and collegiate member and later as a volunteer while her own children were members, cited the International 4-H Exchange (IFYE) program. She recounted through the program her family has housed Swedish and Australian adults and a young man from Japan, which led to the Vanco's son Peter visiting Japan himself.
"That's really been the biggest part (of the program) for him in his life." Stated Mrs. Vanco noting Peter spent four years teaching English in Japan after college.
Area businesses and organizations have long been supporters of the county's 4-H program. The program's public speaking contest each year is rotary sponsored and each year at the Warren County Fair a livestock auction is held where businesses traditionally pay a bit more than market value in support of 4-H.
Commissioner Vanco stated of the potential for program members, "You can get as much out of it as you want to put into it." noting current PA State Representative for the 65th District Kathy Rapp is a former 4-H member.
In addition to the centennial, Warren County's 4-H Achievement Night is celebrating it's 50th anniversary this year.
March 11 through the 17 is Pennsylvania 4-H week.