Alabama Cooperative Extension System leaders have a dream of seeing more children pledging their heads, hearts, hands and health as part of a 4-H expansion. In the 100th year of Extension, the Centennial Youth Initiative (CYI) takes aim at increasing access to 4-H while improving its programs.
The first step to reaching Extension’s target was hiring seven regional Extension agents (REA) and two program specialists. The staff expansion means REAs will no longer serve more than two counties.
“Now, we can spend a lot more time in our counties, building better relationships and reaching more children through 4-H,” said Sarah Butterworth, one of the new REAs serving Baldwin and Washington counties.
With additional staff, REAs also can concentrate on increasing volunteerism and financial support for 4-H in their counties, two more goals of the CYI.
“We want to form relationships with adults who are passionate about connecting youth to our natural resources, farms, agricultural enterprises and other projects,” said Laurie Weldon, the new REA for Autauga and Elmore counties. “We want to engage these adults as volunteer leaders in our journey to help youth grow socially and intellectually.”
Weldon, a former teacher who grew up on a farm, said she loves to see students learn in a different way through 4-H. One of the first new programs she started for Elmore County 4-H is an archery club, which held its first meeting May 6.
“We’re practicing shooting, which is my favorite part,” said Aubrey Calloway, a fourth-grade student at Redland Elementary School and member of the 4-H archery club. “I hope to be in competitions later. I got a bull’s-eye once, and that was really exciting.”
The Alabama Farmers Federation and Alfa Insurance have historically supported 4-H and donated funds in 1984 for the first dormitory at the Alabama 4-H Center in Columbiana. The groups and county Federations also provided more than $350,000 for the center’s Environmental Science Education building.
Funds generated by the center support the Alabama 4-H Club Foundation, whose board of directors voted to provide $400,000 annually to support hiring additional REAs.
“Youth Development in 4-H continues to be an area of common interest for Extension and the Federation,” said Alabama Extension Associate Director Paul Brown. “We look forward to future collaborations to help Alabama youth succeed.”
Federation Executive Director Paul Pinyan, a former 4-H Club Foundation board member, said he’s encouraged by the revived spirit injected into 4-H through this initiative.
“Programs provided by 4-H have a strong history of developing students into well-rounded adults who can be the next leaders in our state’s businesses, industries and government,” Pinyan said. “I commend Extension Director Gary Lemme, Paul Brown and their employees for continuing to build upon the strong foundation of 4-H.”
Through 4-H programs, students in grades K-12 are exposed to a variety of topics ranging from agriculture and natural resources to survival courses and camps. To learn more, visit aces.