4-H Club makes a comeback in Cassville
Barry County Commission steps in to ensure program's growth
4-H, hailed as America's largest youth development organization with six million members strong across the United States, has been in existence for over 100 years, and the Cassville-based club is looking to boost membership and go for 100 more.
The program's unique design teaches young people to lend their hands to service in their community, lend their heads to building knowledge and learning new skills, lend their hearts to loyalty and friendships and pledge to live healthy lifestyles.
The original goal of 4-H was to extend agricultural education to young people in rural communities by organizing them into clubs where they could learn by doing, connect public education with rural life, and solve agricultural challenges. Youth were educated about their environment, farming, tools, cooking and housekeeping, and learned the skills needed to be proactive and innovative in their communities.
In the 21st Century, 4‑H has evolved into a powerful force that operates in rural and urban communities in every state, addressing not only local agricultural issues, but global ones such as food supply, climate change, sustainable energy and childhood obesity.
Members also learn practical skills that will serve them at home, school and in society.
"There are robotics, photography, shooting sports, technology and computers, sewing, fashion, community service," said Marissa Tucker, 2012 Cassville graduate and past 4-H'er who was hired in August as the 4-H youth program assistant for the Barry County MU Extension. "They've added so much just since I was a member. There are many people in this area who remember growing up in 4-H. It is a valuable organization that teaches youth skills they will use for the rest of their lives. Skills like record keeping, public speaking, leadership, and learning how to use local resources to improve the lives of their families and neighbors."
Extension records confirm that 4-H groups have operated in Barry County since the 1930s, but in the last 10 years, membership dwindled in the Cassville-based group, which last met in 2006.
"We had a very strong 4-H program [in the past], then my position was vacated and our clubs did suffer from that," said Tucker, who was hired as a result of a partnership between the Extension and the Barry County Commission.
According to Cherry Warren, Barry County presiding commissioner, the lack of leadership was partly to blame for the group dispersing, along with a hiring freeze which left the Extension in a bind.
"Two years ago, the county agreed to take on an arrangement where they would share the program assistant's salary, and it was because of that arrangement that we were able to fill the position, even with the hiring freeze," said Reagan Bluel, regional dairy specialist for the Barry County Extension office. "It's great that Barry County has that level of support from its commissioners. It took all three to vote on that level of funding."
"We need leadership for these young kids today," said Warren, who recalled activities of 4-H groups that were active in the county as far back as 40 years ago. "We felt 4-H was slipping and wanted to bring it back and work with the university. I think we'll see more growth."
There are three 4-H Clubs in Barry County: the Exeter Trailblazers, the Purdy Screeching Eagles and the Wheaton Wranglers.
With open enrollment just around the corner, Tucker plans to jumpstart a Cassville group.
"We've had a lot of [renewed] interest, so I'm really looking forward to what 4-H is going to become," she said. "We're starting enrollment on Oct. 1, so if parents have been thinking about 4-H, it's a great time to talk to us and get their questions answered."
At a recent Extension picnic, the Exeter Trailblazers and Wheaton Wranglers shared their 4-H experiences with the audience, including learning new skills like sewing, conducting fashion reviews, making root beer, attending camp, performing stream cleanup, and in the process, developed confidence in themselves and their abilities.
"They start out as really reserved kids, then within a few months, they're really involved," said Wheaton Wrangler Club Leader Michelle Chappuis. "I've seen huge changes in the kids. We're the smallest 4-H Club in the county. Even though, we're still going and doing and still trying to get really involved in our community."
Exeter Trailblazer Jeremiah Rittenhouse is involved in 4-H and was recently appointed as a representative to the state 4-H counsel. Highlights of his summer were attending Camp Smokey at Roaring River, and attending a state 4-H conference.
"[The conference] opens your eyes to more than just the club or county level, but to how prevalent 4-H is, how many people are involved, and all the things you can do," he said.
Clubs meet once a month, and work on projects throughout the year.
"We have so many opportunities to make new strides in 4-H, and I would like to see it grow and be a quality club with productive, passionate members. I really believe in 4-H; it's a great organization and can bring a lot of good things for members. It's about growing, and if you don't grow, you don't know what's possible for you."
Enrollment for clubs begins Oct. 1. To enroll, parents can visit www.mo.4honline.com. Children ages 5-18 can participate in 4-H.
For more information, call Tucker at the local Extension office at 417-847-3161.