What Is 4-H? How Can I Join 4-H?

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Have you heard of 4-H but don’t really understand what 4-H is? Are you new to 4-H and trying to figure out ways to get involved and learn what 4-H has to offer? I’d love to tell you all about my 4-H experiences! Hi, my name is Laurelyn Ridge, and I am a sixteen-year-old dedicated 4-H’er. I have been involved in 4-H for seven years, and I enjoy participating in club, county, district, and state events. On my 4-H journey, I have formed my closest friendships and learned many life skills. Let me share with you how 4-H has helped me grow in the areas of leadership, citizenship, and community service while exploring my interests through 4-H project areas.

Leadership is one of the most important skills used throughout life. 4-H has taught me to be a leader and shaped me into the person I am today. The 4-H motto is “Making the Best Better,” and as I look back on previous 4-H project records, I see how 4-H has continually made me a better person. When I first started in 4-H, I was excited at the idea of making new friends, but I was also more introverted around new groups and somewhat intimidated by the thought of meeting new people. My new club visited an assisted living facility every month to help entertain the residents. I was very hesitant to attend and was uncomfortable interacting with the residents. Before long, I was shaking their hands, talking to them, playing instruments for them, and even leading them in songs and games! The monthly visits quickly became one of my favorite activities, and the experience paved the way for later volunteering at the Winston-Salem Rescue Mission when I became a teen.

Holding offices from Reporter to President within my club and serving as the County 4-H Council Photographer and Secretary, I have expanded my leadership roles and will run for district office this year. Now that I have led activities, such as coordinating service projects in my club, serving on the food committee for County 4-H Achievement Night (an annual awards ceremony), and even leading a presentation for over 200 4-H’ers at 4-H Citizenship North Carolina Focus, I have a passion for helping others step out of their comfort zones to become better leaders for today and tomorrow.

Not only has 4-H given me leadership skills and the confidence to be more outgoing, but it has also shown me the importance of citizenship. Throughout my seven years in 4-H, I have spoken with NC Senators, listened to talks by former NC Lieutenant Governor Dan Forest and NC Supreme Court Justice Paul Newby, toured my local police department, participated in flag retirement ceremonies, and attended many different 4-H workshops based on getting involved in government and the political process. I was accepted into the NC House Page Program last year but was unable to serve due to COVID-19. I will reapply to serve in this capacity when the program resumes. In 2020, I even helped campaign at the polls and volunteered 56 hours to help makeover 132,000 voter contacts through phone banking surveys and distributing nonpartisan voter guides. 4-H has opened my eyes to realize youth can have a voice in the workings of our “club, community, country, and world,” which actually echoes the 4-H pledge.

The 4 ‘H’s’ of 4-H represent head, heart, health, and hands. Hands is my favorite ‘H,’ because I love to use my hands to help. Since my particular club has a community service-based focus, we have made blankets for Project Linus, packed Operation Christmas Child boxes, clipped coupons for the military, written cards to military personnel, planned game nights and potlucks for men at the Winston-Salem Rescue Mission, helped with food packaging events to combat food insecurity, and so much more. Not only do these activities help others, but these service projects have helped my fellow 4-H’ers and me realize just how much of a difference we can make in our communities if we work together! For instance, I was able to lead my club in baking and collecting 13 dozen cookies for the Cookies and Carols program at Forsyth Jail and Prisons in 2019. This helped meet 10% of the organization’s goal for the season. When COVID-19 regulations prevented us from making homemade items for this activity in 2020, we didn’t let the pandemic stop us! I learned we could still help by donating pre-packaged snacks and hygiene items, so I led the club in collecting these items instead. Packing around 40 boxes for Operation Christmas Child each year, our club also volunteers at the organization’s warehouse distribution center, where we’re able to inspect and package thousands of boxes annually for shipments to Togo, Tanzania, and Honduras—literally all over the world! Many children who receive these have never received a single gift in their lives, and it’s amazing to hear testimonies of how children opened their boxes and received the exact items they had been praying for! 4-H has given me so much, and it gives me so much joy to give back to others as much as possible!

While my club primarily participates in community service projects, I have also participated in 4-H project areas such as family and consumer sciences, personal development, healthy lifestyles, and expressive arts. Each year, I compile a presentation to better my public speaking skills, and I have sharpened my organizational skills and record-keeping skills through 4-H project record books and portfolios. I’ve been able to expand my cooking skills through events such as a state 4-H cooking challenge that mimicked the Chopped television show.

I love to sing and have been able to advance from my local county talent show to performing at NC 4-H Congress in front of 300 of my peers! (And, shh! Don’t tell anyone, but 4-H actually awards scholarship dollars and sometimes cash winnings to competitors in photography contests, talent shows, presentations, project record books, portfolios, and more!) I am thankful to have earned thousands in 4-H scholarship dollars that have covered my trips to 4-H Congress where there are dances, workshops, and field trips! I even won an iPad through a 4-H public speaking competition once! In 2018, I attended 4-H’s Music Education Matters Summit, where Caylee Hammack and other 4-H alumni who are now professionals in the music industry led me in vocal instruction, songwriting workshops, and even taught me how to promote a career in the music industry through creating a press kit and other marketing tools.

Last year, I participated in AIRE, which represents “application, interview, resume, and electronic video,” basically a simulated job interview. Learning to compile a resume and engaging in a virtual interview through this program will help me when applying to jobs and colleges, and I even won a trip to National 4-H Congress through the competition! I couldn’t begin to list everything I have learned through my 4-H experiences and the many ways I’ve been rewarded in return, but I encourage you to try 4-H for yourself and see where it takes you!

So… What’s your interest? Do you want to learn to lead with confidence, gain a better understanding of how government works, help those in your surrounding community, perform in front of others, and learn about healthy eating and how to cook, sew, or study plants and wildlife? Or, are you someone who raises animals or really enjoys science projects? Even if I didn’t mention one of your favorite hobbies, I can assure you 4-H has a way for you to explore more about what you’re good at and what you love! I hope you will join, become involved, and see the benefits for yourself. Our world is changing drastically each and every day, and it is up to us to make it a better place, so step up and learn how to make a difference as well as participate in activities that you enjoy! Join 4-H if you haven’t, and learn more about 4-H if you’re already a part of the 4-H family: there are many facets of the four-leaf clover to explore!

For more information about 4-H, email, April Bowman, Extension Agent, Livestock, Forages, and 4-H Youth Development at awbowman@ncsu.edu or call 336-703-2855 or Dr. Monique Pearce-Brady, Extension Agent, 4-H Youth Development at dmpearc3@ncsu.edu or call 336-703-2856.

Respectfully submitted by Laurelyn Ridge

Photo of Laurelyn Ridge