4-H is a nationwide cooperative educational program whose mission is to mentor and develop the leaders of tomorrow. They partner with public universities across America through clubs, programs, and camps. In Michigan, that partnership is through Michigan State University (MSU), and each county runs its own 4-H program.
Lenawee County has a very strong 4-H program. With 43 clubs all over the county, it reaches over 3,000 kids each year through programs and camps. Young people learn and develop leadership skills through mentoring and hands-on projects throughout the year.
“It’s an opportunity for the kids to learn. We are hands-on fun educational program,” explains Janelle Stewart, 4-H Program Coordinator at the MSU Extension. “It teaches the kids team-building as well as responsibility. Responsibility not only for those learning to care for livestock, but responsibility for all of the kids to learn to be part of a larger group.”
Leadership & Accountability: Skills for the Next Generation
Responsibility is a big part of what children learn through the 4-H program. Keeley Pape, a Lenawee County 4-H participant describes her experience, “Being in 4-H has taught me a lot of things, like how to be responsible. Having to get up in the morning and taking care of your animals before school, after school, and prepping them for fair – it’s not quite as intense as having a kid, but I think it’s similar.”
Learning to be reliable and trustworthy is only one part of the ongoing training designed to propel these children into the future leaders of our community. Lenawee County’s 4-H program is unique among the Michigan programs in that it has a Teen Leadership Program. A Teen Leader is on each of the advisory boards in Lenawee County. In other counties, all board members are adults.
“This has done two things for us,” Janelle Stewart explains, “One, it has helped us retain the teens in our program. Once children become teenagers, they tend to drop out of the program, but this has helped our children stay until graduation. Two, it helps us further develop them into future leaders. They receive the opportunity to run and participate in board meetings with adults there to advise them, not take over. They really learn how to lead.”
“Being in 4-H has prepared me for the future, because while being in 4-H, I’ve held leadership positions. Being able to hold those roles and being accountable for my actions, being a role model and someone others can look up to – it’s helped me develop a lot of leadership skills,” Keeley Pape says.
Public Speaking: Have No Fear
The Teen Leadership Program also helps Lenawee County youth to develop confidence and strong public speaking skills.
“4-H has developed leadership and responsibility traits in our children. They have great public speaking skills,” states Tammy Pape, mother of several 4-H children and one of the 300 screened volunteers who run and manage the county’s 4-H programs. “We’ve raised three kids and they’ve all gone through the 4-H program.”
“They’ve been very successful because of the program,” further elaborates Jerry Pape, her husband. “They have a great work ethic. None of my children have never actually had to apply for a job. The presentation skills that they have learned through 4-H makes employers ask to hire them right away.”
A Benefit to the Community
The investment that Lenawee County is making into 4-H is not just training the leaders of tomorrow, it’s training our future talented workforce. “A manager at a local retailer told me once that when he receives an application, if the applicant puts 4-H on the form, that’s all he needs to see,” says Jerry Pape.
Head, Heart, Hands, and Health are the four Hs in 4-H and they are the four values that members work on throughout the program, and that is illustrated clearly through the 4-H pledge:
I pledge my head to clearer thinking,
My heart to greater loyalty,
My hands to larger service,
And my health to better living,
For my club, my community, my country, and my world.
“We’re to make a difference in this entire community,” Jerry Pape further explains. And they do. “For every kid we’ve watched go through this program, from young children, as they grow into young adults, we’ve been able to watch them just bloom. It’s a benefit to this community and to our society.”
Bloom Where You’re Planted
Lenawee County is the only 4-H division in the state to have Bloom Where You’re Planted, a mentorship program for youth with disabilities.
Youth with disabilities are mentored by youth without disabilities, often forming deep bonds and lifelong friendships that continue even after the program is complete. The mentors become friends and advocates for the mentees at school; everyone in the program thrives. Those with disabilities in the program can complete 4-H projects to learn and grow. But those that mentor often end up being the ones that get those most out of the program.
“In the past, I never saw myself working with special needs kids because I didn’t think I had the patience. But I found out that I do, and I’ve had a lot of fun with it,” states Bryanna Hoffmann, a Lenawee County 4-H Member. “You get to really bond with the kids that you work with, and now it’s kind of a passion of mine, to work with special needs kids, and that’s something I never knew I had.”
How It’s all Possible
The funding for 4-H program in Lenawee County comes predominately from the county government. This is supplemented by state and federal funding, but most of the 4-H funding is received directly from Lenawee County. It is a non-mandated service. Without that funding, the 4-H program would not be able to operate within our county as it does today.
“If funding ceased for this and this program disappeared, there would be a real void in the county,” Jerry Pape says. His daughter, Keeley Pape further commented, “I can’t imagine what Lenawee County would be like without 4-H.”
“I can’t even imagine life without 4-H, or what my life would look like,” Bryanna Hoffmann sums up.
For more information about the 4-H program, visit them online. For more information about how Lenawee County is Investing in You through programs like 4-H, stay tuned to our blog or visit us online.