AMES, Iowa--Nearly 31,000 youth in Iowa find a home each year in a 4-H club. The new school year brings a chance for more youth to join 4-H clubs, interact with others and pursue common interests, according to Chuck Morris, director of the Iowa State University Extension 4-H Youth Development program.
Once considered an organization for rural and farm youngsters, 4-H now enrolls more urban than rural youth and offers a wide range of projects, from aerospace, computers and the environment to horticulture, photography and visual art, all with an emphasis on leadership and community service, Morris said.
Iowa 4-H is a national leader due in part to its emphasis on offering every youth a chance to experience a sense of belonging, generosity, independence and mastery and to provide every club with a trained caring adult leader, Morris said.
Along with developing character and acquiring knowledge, 4-H youth also build life skills, he said. Such skills as communication, decision making, problem solving, gathering information, managing resources and working with others are important for success in school, in personal relations and in careers.
“Learning by doing is basic to 4-H,” Morris said. “4-H’ers do more than read about things. They do things, whether it’s assembling and launching a rocket, writing a computer program, giving a speech or conducting a club meeting.”
Extension and 4-H “extend” Iowa State University to youth throughout the state, added Jack Payne, vice president for ISU Extension and Outreach. “We connect youth to learning and service opportunities – and fun – in the community, county, region and state, as well as beyond Iowa’s borders. We help youth find their passion and see how that translates into education and careers.”
Enrollment is available for youth in 4th through 12th grade, with programs tailored to three age groups – juniors in grades 4-6, intermediates in 7-8 and seniors in 9-12. Iowa has approximately 1,736 4-H clubs, each with its own officers and adult volunteer leaders. Parents also are encouraged to participate.
Experiences outside the club also expand horizons for younger 4-H’ers, he said, pointing out several countywide events. Older 4-H’ers can take on leadership roles outside the club, serving at the county or state level on councils and attending national conferences.
Iowa 4-H also offers Clover Kids for children in kindergarten through 3rd grade. Clover Kids explore science, strengthen motor skills, play cooperative games and learn to work together in groups.
Morris said 4-H is the most popular youth development organization in the United States with more than 7 million members. To learn more about the program, he recommended contacting a local county office of ISU Extension. To find your local office, go to /content/county-offices/. See more about 4-H at /kidsteens/ and /4H/about4-H.html.