PARKERSBURG - Across West Virginia, 4-Hers are building robots, helping the environment, exploring math and science, traveling to new places, getting healthy and becoming leaders in their community.
Local 4-H programs make learning fun, and as kids learn, they acquire skills and build confidence and become better citizens, said Jodi Smith, West Virginia University Extension Service agent who works locally with the 4-H Program.
Oct. 6 is National 4-H Week, with the theme "Join the Club."
Emma Daley, Ali Evans, Owen Groves, Cate Evans and Katie Daley at the WVU 4-H Football Day in September. Wood County 4-Hers, along with 4-Hers from several counties, attended a WVU football game recognized as “WV 4-H Football Day.”
A recent national study of the 4-H "learn by doing" approach shows 4-Hers are nearly twice as likely to get better grades in school and twice as likely to plan to go to college. But for any youth-based organization to thrive, it takes the collective efforts of the children and families in our communities. There are opportunities throughout the year to become involved in Wood County 4-H. There's no charge to join and minimal charges for activities, 4-H officials said.
"One of the ways we kick off National 4-H Week in Wood County is by holding a fundraiser at our 4-H Campgrounds. The facility is managed by an all volunteer board of trustees and every dollar raised helps support the facility. Clubs also put up displays around the county at various schools and businesses to promote the program, and the displays are then judged and clubs receive an award," Smith said.
The youth in 4-H have a variety of reasons for getting involved and staying involved.
"I joined 4-H because I love my community, and I felt like being a part of this organization would allow me to help in every way I can. Also, I wanted to make new friends who shared the same goals and morals that I do," said Laura Thompson, president of the Wood County 4-H Teen Leaders and a member of the Lubeck Lucky Clovers 4-H Club.
"I joined 4-H to learn more about leadership and make new friends. My favorite part of 4-H is going on trips with my friends and showing animals at the fair," said Haleigh Kent, teen leader news reporter and member of the Rebels 4-H Club.
Shelby Dearth, with the Lucky Clovers 4-H Club and a teen leader, said she got involved with 4-H through her grandmother.
"I was 8 years old and I have been in love with it ever since then. What I love most about 4-H is my friends and all the great memories we share. I am currently a third-year teen leader and have been involved in 4-H for eight years. I love 4-H will all of my heart and that is definitely one thing that will never change no matter what happens," Dearth said.
Smith said when asked why they joined 4-H members said they liked camp, making new friends, competing at the county fair, making a difference in their community, building a resume for college, learning leadership skills and to participate in community service activities.
There are many opportunities in Wood County, including a sharpshooters club that teaches safe and ethical use of shooting sports equipment including archery and air rifle. Another specialty club focuses on horses. Community and afterschool clubs provide an opportunity for youth to choose from hundreds of 4-H projects including leadership, cooking, gardening, theater arts, fishing, small pets, rockets, electricity and more. For older 4-H members, there is a collegiate club at WVU-P and a teen leader club for 4-H members 13 and older.
The program is the largest youth development organization in West Virginia, and the country. Nearly one-in-four West Virginia youth belong to 4-H , Smith said.
Part of the program's appeal is that it provides a safe and welcoming environment for children from various backgrounds to thrive. That same national study also found that girls in 4-H are more than twice as likely to participate in science, engineering or computer technology programs as their peers, according to Smith.
"We are always looking for volunteers interested in starting 4-H clubs in Wood County. There is a need for more afterschool clubs in the community as well as community 4-H clubs," Smith said.
For information about 4-H opportunities in Wood County, contact Smith in the local extension office at the courthouse, 304-424-1960 or visit the WVU Extension Service website at wood.ext.wvu.edu.