The Impact of 4-H: A True Leader Looks Back

By Brad Cochran, WVSU Extension Agent for Community and Agricultural Resource Development

Cherokee Tribal Song 2008 Putnam County 4-H CampHead, Heart, Hands, Health, and Holy Cow – This Program Changed My Life!

I pledge my head to clearer thought, my heart to greater loyalty, my hands to larger service, and my health to better living, for my club, my community, my country and my world. When I was a kid in 4-H, I would recite that pledge during each club meeting, each flag-raising ceremony at 4-H camp and during other 4-H interactions throughout the year. To be honest, I never put much thought into what those words truly meant. The older I get (maybe wiser, too?), the more I understand what Otis Hall, the state leader in Kansas, was meaning when he wrote the pledge that was adopted in 1927.

I pledge my head to clearer thought. When I went through the 4-H Charting project in 2006, I learned so much more about myself and others in my Charting group than I could have ever imagined. I learned my fears – not just that I’m scared of heights but what I truly feared in life. Granted, the specifics of what I feared then and now have changed, but I learned to recognize those fears and how to hit them head-on and push through them. I learned to care for the others in my Charting group. Whether it was giving advice on how to handle a situation, learning to clear my head and overcome a fear of heights when we did our trust fall, or just generally taking a step back and thinking each and every situation through, the 4-H Charting program, and earning my 4-H Charting pin, was one of the most impactful times of my 4-H membership.

I pledge my heart to greater loyalty. I thought I had always been a loyal person, but then I joined 4-H. I learned a great deal about loyalty through this program. Whether it was loyalty toward my tribe at 4-H camp (How How, Cherokees!), loyalty to my friends for a lifetime that I met through 4-H or just general loyalty to this youth development program, I truly learned what it meant to be loyal to something. Through 4-H, I learned that being loyal to something is more than just showing up to meetings every month or completing a 4-H project book. It was about opening up my heart to the message of 4-H and becoming a better person because of it. When you stand back and think of the four Hs, it takes all of them to become a well-rounded person. I won’t say that any one H is more important than the next, but, from my perspective, the Heart is where it all begins.

I pledge my hands to larger service. I have always been engaged in community service, and perhaps this is why I am in Extension today, doing what I love. Having the opportunity to work directly in my community and in my county truly made an impact in my life. Whether it was making Halloween treat bags to take to kids in the local hospital, litter sweeps at 4-H camp and in my community, or doing fundraisers to help kids come to 4-H camp, they all gave me a perspective into community service.

Chief Year_Putnam County 4-H Camp 2009I pledge my health to better living. In the beginning of my time as a 4-Her, this H always seemed to be the outlier. It wasn’t until a few years in that I truly realized why this H was included. Without our health, we have nothing. 4-H was developed as a way to keep young people active and engaged in the community, state and country. For me, 4-H did just that. I’ve had the opportunity to exhibit market hogs at the county fair, where I won Senior Division Showmanship three years in a row; I’ve had some of my 4-H projects move on to the state fair for judging; and I’ve attended State 4-H camps. But my favorite week of the year was that annual county 4-H camp. It was the place where I made memories and friendships that will last a lifetime. Whether it was running around at the “field swim meet” after the pool was closed, dancing until my legs hurt to “Amos Moses” or just having a great time with great friends, it was always the healthiest week of my summer, from physical activity to friendship-building to mental health.

To thank everyone who changed my life through 4-H would take the length of a novel, but to anyone who has ever crossed my path, from my first club meeting until I aged out of the program, or while I received my West Virginia 4-H All-Star pin, I say “Thank You!” It is because of you that I am who I am today. To sum up my experience in 4-H in just a few words would be very difficult, as this program has truly “Made the Best Better” and helped me become a True Leader.

For my best attempt at summing up my 4-H experience into just two words, here goes: HOW HOW!

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