Idaho 4-H Celebrates a Century Sunday at the Western Idaho Fair

Thursday, August 16 2012

BOISE – Break out the party hats because Idaho 4-H members, volunteers and friends will celebrate the program’s first 100 years Sunday, Aug. 19, at the Western Idaho Fair.

The fair has designated Sunday as 4-H Day in honor of the program’s centennial. At 4 p.m. in the Kids Corral, University of Idaho Extension will provide birthday cake to celebrate the 4-H centennial.

From its first stirrings in Lemhi County in 1912 — as a way to encourage young people to display agricultural products at the county fair, 4-H has grown to become one of Idaho’s best-known youth development programs.

In 2011, more than 33,000 young people participated in after-school programs, developed leadership skills and participated in projects, ranging from operating robots to learning photography and raising animals from chickens to cattle.

Some 4,000 4-H volunteers made the University of Idaho Extension youth development program one of the state’s most diverse and visible opportunities for young people.

In Ada County, about 3,000 young people participate in 4-H in all of its forms, from after-school programs to traditional livestock projects. About 650 enroll in 4-H clubs and complete projects.

“In the Boise Valley, we have lots of options, and kids are very busy with football, baseball, scouts and other activities,” said Barb Abo, an extension educator for youth in the University of Idaho Extension Ada County office.

Many of the 4-H’ers bring their projects to the fair to compete for prizes and as a sort of victory lap to celebrate the accomplishment of completing their projects, Abo said.

Many other 4-H members may not make it to the fair, she said, but still learn from their projects and benefit from the knowledge, skills and self-confidence they gain through the process.

As demands for young people’s time multiplied and urban areas grew, 4-H itself changed in recent decades, Abo said. Urban youths are doing projects about gardening in pots on their patios, training dogs, learning about computers and competing with robots.

Even taking one project, they get the same experiences and benefits that the 4-H program can provide about learning, public presentations, accomplishing a task and gaining self-confidence, she said.

In addition, 4-H livestock projects, the ones many people associate with 4-H and rural life, are available to city children.

“If a city kid wants to know about cattle or is interested in veterinary school, they can still do a beef project without raising an animal,” Abo said.

Volunteers, the core of the 4-H experience, have evolved with the times, too, she said. The time they commit to 4-H varies a lot, but each volunteer contributes to giving youths something positive.

“We have volunteers who spend four hours at the fair, teach at a day camp or teach kids about nutrition in the classroom. And we have volunteers who contribute 10 to 15 hours a week and manage club activities with as many as 60 kids,” Abo said.

What’s important, she said, is that teen and adult volunteers share their knowledge and skills, and provide 4-H’ers with a safe, supportive way to learn lifelong skills.

The centennial celebration at the Western Idaho Fair this week offers a chance to recognize this year’s 4-H’ers accomplishments and a program that’s encouraged generations of Idaho youths to learn and develop leadership skills.
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