When you think of 4-H, the first image that pops into your mind is probably a cow, right?  Same thing happened to me until I got to know 4-H better.  Now when I think of 4-H, the image that pops into my mind is the U.S.  Capitol building, where our nation’s biggest challenges and issues are debated.

North Carolina 4-H has a very strong, deliberate focus on community service, citizenship, public speaking, and leadership training. 

For example, every year North Carolina 4-H hosts “Citizenship Focus,” an opportunity for 100 to 150 4-H teens to meet with legislators in Raleigh and identify opportunities for teen engagement in the political and governmental life of North Carolina.  Prior to attending Citizenship Focus, the students are required to learn more about the issues in their communities.   At the conference, each student develops a community-based citizenship action plan to implement after he/she returns home. 

4-H also helps students develop leadership skills through elected positions on 4-H youth councils at the county, district, and state level.   You probably are wondering how these students from all over the county, district, and state get to know each other well enough to make the elections meaningful.  Well, 4-H does a great job of offering events throughout the year at the various levels. 

Students get to know each other at presentation and public speaking competitions, livestock competitions, teen retreats, community service projects, and summer residential 4-H camps.   

The presentations and public speaking opportunities cover a wide array of topic areas — from science and technology to cooking to community service to expressive arts and communications (to mention just a few).  Students are encouraged to start participating in these competitions when they are as young as nine years old.  By the time these students are in their teens, they are beginning to get to know their competition, and they are capable of making polished, high-quality presentations. 

But, of course, the competition often is comprised of some of the same kids they hung out with during the summer at one of 4-H’s five North Carolina residential camps. The camps offer the students the typical camp experience — e.g., “Marine Science and Sailing Camp” at the Eastern NC 4-H Enivronmental Education Center,  “Horsemanship Camp” at Millstone 4-H Camp, “Leader-in-Training Camp” at Betsy Jeff Penn 4-H Educational Center, and “Stream Ecology Camp” at the Swannanoa 4-H Center.   But they also offer specialized opportunities, like the camp for deaf children and the camp for high-achieving, low-resource students at Sertoma 4-H Center.  And the 4-H camps are quite a value — e.g., only $460 for the Marine Science and Sailing Camp. 

Students with a demonstrated interest in science and electricity also have an opportunity during the summer to attend a 3-day, all-expenses paid “4-H Electric Congress.”  The Electric Congress is funded entirely by NC’s electric cooperatives.  It is held on the campus of a university, and the students get a chance to live in the dorm rooms, do electric workshops, attend banquets and dances, and participate in one fun-filled activity.  This year, the students stayed in the dorms at UNC-Wilmington, enjoyed a day at the beach, and were feted by a night of dining and dancing on a cruise in the harbor.  To earn an opportunity to attend Electric Congress, students must submit written project record books demonstrating activities and learning they did during the year related to the science of electricity.  The students with the best project record books in their counties are selected to attend. 

The 4-H year culminates in mid-July with a week-long 4-H Congress in Raleigh.  Students at 4-H Congress chart the organization’s path for the coming year, elect officers, celebrate district winners, and announce the annual photography winners.   In addition, 4-H Congress provides the forum for the state-level competitions of the students who have advanced from the district levels in the presentation, public speaking, and cumulative project record book competitions. 
But it doesn’t stop there.  Those students who compete in, and win, the “Application, Resume, and Interview” competition represent North Carolina at National 4-H Congress, National 4-H Conference, and International Leadership Conference. 
The list of opportunities I’ve just recounted is long, but it is by no means complete.   There are more opportunities, such as 4-H Ambassadors, 4-H Honor Club, 4-H college scholarships, etc.

Orange County 4-H currently is looking for a new 4-H Agent , as its past agent just took a terrific job near the forefront of North Carolina’s STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) efforts.  If you or someone you know loves working with children and helping them grow into strong, caring citizens, contact Orange County’s 4-H Office

4-H . . . Growing Tomorrow’s Leaders.