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!

4-H Grow True Leaders Campaign

By Kelli Batch, Assistant Program Director, Resilient Youth & Families

Youth are faced with many obstacles in today’s world. Luckily, there are many youth out there who are doing their part to make their communities, their world, a better place. That’s what being a member of 4-H is all about. Youth who participate in 4-H are:

  • Four times more likely to make contributions to their communities (Grades 7-12);
  • Two times more likely to be civically active (Grades 8-12);
  • Two times more likely to make healthier choices (Grade 7);
  • Two times more likely to participate in Science, Engineering and Computer Technology programs during out-of-school time (Grades 10 – 12); and
  • 4-H girls are two times  more likely (Grade 10) and nearly three times more likely (Grade 12) to take part in science programs compared to girls in other out-of-school time activities.

Through programs that focus on health, science, citizenship and mentoring, 4-H youth are given the resources and skills to grow into true leaders in their communities. So, as a community, we should do our part to encourage and recognize these dynamic youth, these “true leaders.” During the months of April through June, we at 4-H are honoring youth who are making impacts in their own lives and the lives of others through the 4-H Grow True Leaders Shout Campaign. We want to recognize the hard work and dedication of our 4-H members by giving them shout outs on social media using the hashtag #TrueLeaders. You’ll find our shout outs in places like:

Let’s show our 4-H’ers that their efforts are noticed, appreciated and impactful. Join us at 4-H as we continue to “Grow True Leaders”!


#WVSUExtensionStories: A Mentor’s Work is Never Finished

A youth mentor is never off duty.

That’s a lesson Jameyia Richardson learned quickly when, at 20 years old, she signed up to mentor young people at WVSU Extension Service’s annual Health, Sciences and Technology Academy (HSTA) Forensic Summer Institute. The weeklong, residential 4-H camp uses a crime scene investigation scenario to teach forensic science to teens.

“Kids are always watching you,” she says with a laugh. “They won’t let you get by with anything.”

Barely out of her teens herself that first summer as a mentor, the role of “role model” was one Jameyia never anticipated playing.

“I was an English major,” she says. “I knew nothing about science.” But she saw the camp as a learning opportunity not only for the students but also for herself.

“One of our tasks was to get the kids up in the morning and ready for the day’s activities, then we would have some free time,” she says. “But I went to class with them, participated and learned, too. I showed interest, which made them show interest. It was the best decision I ever made.”

Soon she discovered her behavior was having an effect. The kids were approaching her during off hours to continue discussing what they’d learned in class.

“People want to feel what they’re doing is important,” she says of her interaction with campers, “and when you get involved as a mentor, it does that for them.”

As she learned with the students, she was careful to ensure her authority as a mentor was not compromised – something quick-witted teens can often see right through.

“When you are a mentor, there is a role model barrier,” she says. “I would tell them, ‘I’m not your friend, but nobody said we can’t have some fun, because I’m a big kid, too.’”

So as she dealt with the common issues of gossip, quarrels and hygiene problems among the adolescent campers, Jameyia was also bettering herself and her own skills in people management, learning to control a group, exhibit leadership tendencies and foster a sense of inclusion among all the teens.

“There’s always that one kid in the corner who doesn’t talk a lot and doesn’t participate as much,” she says. “So I would bring him into the group during social activities, make him the center of attention, and teach these kids that they all have things in common with one another, even when they think they don’t.”

Although her early motivation for getting involved in WVSU 4-H was purely personal (“I needed the money,” she says), that first summer as a HSTA mentor stuck with her and brought her back for more. She has mentored with various 4-H camps almost every summer since.

Now 25, Jameyia is a WVSU graduate with her B.A. in English and is eyeing possibilities both within and beyond West Virginia. She is finding that being a mentor is not only a job but a way of life.

“I was at the pool and was approached by a former camper,” she says. “He saw me the same way he saw me at camp: as a role model. So I’m always sure to present myself appropriately and professionally, whether it’s at my job, at the pool or on social media.”

In fact, a sense of pride, class and professionalism is one she has attempted to instill in several of the teens she’s helped, especially girls.

“I’ll admit, girls are often worse than boys. I see them posting things on social media and ask them, ‘Is this how you want to present yourself? Is this the woman you want people to see you as?’ And they get it.”

Camp organizers were quick to realize that Jameyia also “got it.”

“She is the epitome of a true mentor,” says Kelli Batch, WVSU’s assistant director for 4-H. “I saw the potential when she first came to us, and she dove into the role whole-heartedly. Being in charge of 100 teenagers was a real life lesson that allowed her to grow up quickly. Now she’s this helpful, honest and caring professional.”

Jameyia isn’t quite finished with WVSU Extension Service. Should her career search keep her in the area, she’s hoping to return to camp next summer to not only mentor a new group of teens but also help train the next crop of youth mentors.

Because, if your mentor switch is never turned off, you may as well put it to good use.