Opinion: Why join 4-H?

Kyal Browne

What is 4-H? 4‑H is a community that provides experiences where young people learn by doing.

According to their website, “For more than 100 years, 4‑H has welcomed young people of all beliefs and backgrounds, giving kids a voice to express who they are and how they make their lives and communities better. Through life-changing 4‑H programs, nearly six million kids and teens have taken on critical societal issues such as addressing community health inequities, engaging in civil discourse, and advocating for equity and inclusion for all.”

It is clear that 4-H has an established history of developing young future leaders. But why is 4-H a good use of the limited and precious time of the teen years? Based on my personal experience, I believe 4-H helps students to grow both personally and academically.

One way 4-H develops participants’ personal growth is by offering them the opportunity for different roles that come with unique experiences.

There are so many amazing leadership positions that it offers students, such as being club and county council officers, being delegates that are charged with representing their area to our state officers, and of course, participating at the top level of state leadership.

All of these positions require organization, people skills, an understanding of 4-H, and a willingness to bring it to as many children as possible. Whether it is simply through organizing a 4-H meeting, community service project, or managing one’s personal life and duties, it's mandatory that our young leaders develop good organizational skills. One learns the importance of people skills when serving in any of these positions. Our ability to communicate and work well with others is vital to success in these roles.

4-H offers eye-opening learning experiences to encourage the personal growth of its members and expand their perspectives. One way is through incredible foreign exchange programs to countries like Japan and Australia, allowing participants to not only experience other cultures, traditions, and values, but allowing them to participate in the daily lives of the generous families that take them into their homes.

Youth leaders who have had the opportunity to go on these trips have come home with completely new outlooks of the privileges we are afforded in a country as blessed as America. They also return with a developed sense of empathy toward other cultures.

Another unique opportunity for participants is that, through cooperation with each state government, 4-H has been able to offer government partnership programs that teach youth about how state legislation is run and how it affects agriculture as a whole. Some youth leaders are even allowed to go to our nation’s capital and get hands-on experience with the process to advocate for agriculture in their own states. Finally, there are many avenues for academic growth and achievement.

Programs such as STEM, robotics, and consumer decision-making are activities that cause our youth to challenge their creativity and push them to make positive changes in their communities and schools all while developing academic skills. These are just a few of the amazing leadership, personal development and academic activities and programs 4-H offers.

In addition to all of this, 4-H also has several ways and opportunities to develop members' presentation skills. In everything done through 4-H, there's always been a strong emphasis on the importance of presentation and public speaking.

From everything in 4-H from being as simple as involvement in our club's parliamentary procedure to the process of running for officer positions, each position in 4-H, no matter how small, requires candidates to give a speech of some sort representing oneself. This creates, from a young age, the ability to stand up and speak in front of people with or without preparation.

However, 4H also offers multiple competitive opportunities for public speaking. Competitive opportunities such as salesmanship requires participants to not only speak but present an argument for the sale of a specific project to demonstrate their research and personal knowledge. Other competitions such as speech contests and consumer decision-making give members time to prepare a competitive speech on a given subject. It allows them to give it multiple times to several judges to gain feedback and improve their skills. According to The Boys and Girls Club of Greater Conjo Valley, “Learning public speaking skills serves to improve communication skills, increase self-esteem, grow planning experience, and encourage students to develop the power of persuasion.” All of these are very important objectives for 4-H.

Serving in leadership through 4-H on any level also teaches young leaders important skills, such as commitment and flexibility, that they will need for the future. Commitment is key to success in 4-H, whether that's giving up sports to show cattle or staying home and working a goat instead of going to play with friends.

Making these tough choices teaches members the importance of setting their priorities, sticking to them, and learning the commitment it takes to achieve their goals. Commitment is key to one’s success in life because it is learning to give up certain luxuries or wants to be the best one can be in the field of their choosing. Committing to something to the extent of forsaking other opportunities is extremely difficult. Flexibility is also so important in 4-H and life and pursuits after members graduate from the program. The ability to take a situation that's not going the way one planned and adjust and adapt to make the best out of it is so important.  Whether it's a meeting going awry, poor weather changing plans, or an animal with an unexpected injury or even death, 4-H members make adjustments and move on to make the most of the situation they are placed in. This flexibility and resiliency are skills essential in future leaders. Practicing those skills at a young age helps mature members and prepare them for their future endeavors.

Many people say “4-H is just about animals and showing,” but there is so much more offered, and while agriculture is very important to the organization, personal development is vital to everything done in 4-H. Statistics show success in multiple areas for 4-H members. 4-H youth make healthier choices when it comes to delaying sexual intercourse, not using drugs, and being more physically active. The national 4-H website also states the 4-H mission “empowers youth to reach their full potential, working and learning in partnership with caring adults. And the 4-H vision is a world in which youth and adults learn, grow and work together as catalysts for positive change.” Even if someone has absolutely no interest in animals or livestock, there are still so many opportunities and experiences to be gained by joining 4-H.

In conclusion, 4-H is developing the future leaders of America by equipping them with the skills for success. Whether it is being a lawyer, doctor, farmer, or artist – no matter where one’s interests lie – 4-H will help prepare a person to be the most successful version of themselves. Through 4-H they have gained the ability to present themselves through public speaking, and they have confidence in their ability to communicate clearly with others. With an understanding of the importance of discipline and flexibility, they will go on to be leaders in whatever they choose to do. With its years of experience and the development of young leaders through multiple programs, 4-H is a valuable investment of one's time, commitment, and hard work.

For more information about this article and 4-H please visit https://agrilifeextension.tamu.edu or https://texas4-h.tamu.edu and contact Liz Espie at 972-935-6735.

Kyal Browne is a 4-H participant from Waxahachie.