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4-H celebrates rich history, bright future during 2002
By Bethany Waldrop Keiper
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Faith Hill, Archie Manning and Morgan Freeman -- what could these Mississippi success stories possibly have in common? They all share a four-leaf bond -- 4-H.
Since its beginnings in the early 1900s, 4-H offers youths from farm or working-class families the opportunity to develop important life skills.
"As the youth component of the Mississippi State University Extension Service, 4-H brings so much to our participating youth," said Susan Holder, state program leader for 4-H. "The life skills they learn will help them become productive, responsible adults."
These skills include developing positive self-concepts, establishing effective interpersonal relationships and learning practical skills for life. Through the hard work of state 4-H volunteers and personnel, the four H's of head, heart, hands and health are brought together in Mississippi's youth.
4-H has adapted to needs of youth in succeeding generations. Early educational programs revolved around agriculture and food preservation. While subjects have changed, young people still develop life skills through "learning-by-doing" projects.
"4-H educational programs nurture values like responsibility, hard work, integrity and teamwork," Holder explained.
In 2002, 4-H is celebrating its centennial as one of the nation's longest-serving youth development organizations. To mark the occasion, 4-H is not building a national monument -- instead, it has brought together a monumental amount of ideas to influence the future of America's youth.
In the fall of 2001, groups of 4-H participants and volunteers began the National Conversation on Youth Development in the 21st Century. The National 4-H Council estimates more than 100,000 citizens participated in conversations about the future of 4-H in almost every one of the nation's 3,067 counties and parishes.
In early March, 10 Mississippi youth joined more than 1,600 others from every state, territory and the District of Columbia for the National Conversation in Washington, D.C. President Bush and Congress received copies of the national report which compiled recommendations from the local and state conversations.
"The recommendations will impact programs and policy, bringing the final results right back home where they started," Holder said. "The No. 1 goal of the conversations was the power of youth, while the second goal was equity, access and opportunity for all."
4-H chose the monumental undertaking rather than a structure of stone or steel for its centennial celebration, but 4-H already boasts a lasting, living monument -- the success of past members and the future of its present members.
"I believe in 4-H and 4-H believes in the young people of our great state," said Morgan Freeman, Mississippi-born film actor. "They're our hope for tomorrow."
Many famous former 4-H members credit the experience with helping them reach their full potential. Miss Mississippi 2000 Christy May credits 4-H for her ability to speak out about important issues.
"4-H has definitely made me the person I am today. When I was young, I was extremely shy. The 4-H contests helped me overcome my shyness. I tell people '4-H gave me a voice'," May explained. "I also learned good sportsmanship through the program. This really helped me when I competed in Miss Mississippi and Miss America. Competing can and should be fun, and I am grateful to 4-H for this lesson."
Football great Archie Manning is also a state 4-H success story.
"4-H was fun, but I also learned leadership skills and values such as responsibility that have served me well throughout my life and career," Manning said. "I believe in and support Mississippi 4-H."
Other famous 4-H members include singer and actress Reba McIntire, singer and Mississippian Faith Hill, "Garfield" creator Jim Davis, actress Florence Henderson and many sports stars, senators, governors and politicians.
A constant state of evolution has kept 4-H interesting to passing generations.
"What started out as corn clubs for boys and tomato-canning lessons for girls has grown to include teaching leadership to both genders and providing education on how to avoid some very modern problems, such as teen pregnancy and drug use," Holder said.
4-H offers 40 different subjects to choose from, ranging from cattle to computers, from health to hogs, from economics to the environment. Each subject has many different categories. Each category has different projects for youth to complete.
"The top category in the state with more than 39,000 completed projects is healthy lifestyle education. This includes nutrition, sports and first aid. The next most popular category is environmental education, with about 36,000 completed projects," Holder explained.
Projects are learning activities -- a completed project includes a minimum of 10 hours of instruction and related activities for the youths involved.
"Projects are sequential, with different levels of learning for the different ages. The 4-H learning materials are user-friendly for the volunteers who lead and for the youths who participate," Holder said. "The projects encourage hands-on participation."
Today, national 4-H membership exceeds 6.5 million youth with more than 125,000 of those members in Mississippi. For more information on 4-H, contact your county Extension office.