Each year, thousands of youths across West Virginia have the chance to discover what they love and are passionate about through 4-H. The largest youth development organization in the nation, 4-H gives young people an opportunity to build relationships, skills and experiences that last a lifetime. To recognize the importance of 4-H, West Virginia University Extension joins in a celebration of National 4-H Week Oct. 1-7.
This year’s theme is “I Love 4-H,” which invites incoming members to learn more about the program directly from both current members and alumni. Past and present 4-H’ers are encouraged to share why they fell in love with 4-H throughout the week.
In 2022, West Virginia 4-H reached more than 42,600 youths in all 55 counties through programs such as community and special interest clubs, STEM education, in-school activities, livestock projects and camping. Participants learn about a variety of topics, including health, citizenship, leadership and other important life skills.
“Across the nation, 4-H has made a commitment to ensuring that every child – no matter their race, religion, identity or background – has a safe space in our community,” Brent Clark, director of WVU Extension 4-H and Youth Development, said. “Here in West Virginia, it is important that we always welcome all young people to be a part of our 4-H program and continue to identify new programs that meet the needs of young people throughout the state.”
West Virginia 4-H provides youths with opportunities to grow with 4-H and build a strong foundation for future success. Across the state, 4-H’ers can become more confident versions of themselves through the program, just like Paige Powers, a Lewis County 4-H’er.
“Everybody always says to make the best better. Four-H can not only just make other things better, but it can make you be the best you could ever think about being,” Powers said. “You can learn how to cook, clean, speak out, be yourself and lead people. You just have room to be you. You’re not trying to strive to be anybody else. Four-H is just like the one thing that I know that will always be here in my heart.”
For all youths, 4-H offers a welcoming environment to explore their interests, try new things and discover their passions. Taylor Davis, WVU Collegiate 4-H’er from Doddridge County, believes 4-H offers opportunities for all.
“If you’re thinking about joining 4-H, I would honestly recommend giving it a shot. Even if you’re unsure about it and think you might not like it, 4-H offers something for everyone,” Davis said. “If you don’t think you’re going to be interested in a more business-oriented club or a community service club, there are clubs for robotics, agriculture or even dedicated to leadership skills. There’s something out there for you. And I really think that it’s important that you give yourself that shot to learn those skills.”
Even West Virginia 4-H volunteers have fallen in love with 4-H and enjoy introducing young people to all the opportunities available through the program.
“What I would stress to anybody who’s interested in being a 4-H volunteer is that you may not realize now why it’s so important, but when you get involved and you see the kids and you see what it does for them, you’ll realize that they need you,” Annette Jordan, a Berkeley County 4-H volunteer, said. “We need to keep this program going. We need people to continue to grow this program so that they have these opportunities to be kids as long as they can.”
Four-H is delivered by cooperative extension—a community of more than 100 public universities across the nation that provides experiences where young people from diverse backgrounds learn by doing. In West Virginia, one in every four youths is involved in 4-H. During the 2022-2023 4-H year, there were nearly 550 clubs throughout the state and more than 9,700 West Virginia 4-H club members. This summer, West Virginia 4-H hosted more than 6,000 youths at county and state camps, providing more than $135,000 in camp scholarships.
In addition to traditional club, camping and livestock activities, 4-H has expanded programming to include outdoor education and adventure activities; special interest clubs and camps; science, technology, engineering, art and math activities; and other engaging programs that provide them with a strong foundation for future education and career opportunities. Youths also learn about and participate in valuable community service events in their communities and throughout the state.
Youths between the ages of 9 and 21 can join 4-H with a parent or guardian’s permission. Younger children, ages 5 to 8, who are interested in 4-H can join Cloverbuds, which focuses more on fun and social activities that set the stage for future learning. College-aged students also can join any of the seven collegiate 4-H clubs in West Virginia. To join a club or explore 4-H activities in your area, contact a local WVU Extension office.
“The 4-H program provides many opportunities and pathways for youths to grow confidence, independence, resilience and compassion. We also offer safe environments where youth can have positive relationships with caring adult mentors,” Clark said.