|4-H Extension Corner|
|Spotlight on Bibb County:|
Diverse Alabama 4-H Programs Benefit Urban & Rural Youth
With more than 78,000 4-Hers across Alabama, it shouldn’t come as a surprise the programs, projects and events 4-Hers are involved in are as unique and diverse as the youth and their hometowns.
For more than 100 years, Alabama 4-H has touched the lives of tens of thousands of Alabama young people with an approach imparting essential life skills through learning by doing.
You’re likely to find today’s 4-Hers exploring career options, entrepreneurship, nutrition and fitness, computer technology, GPS mapping, animal sciences, rocketry, public speaking, entomology, Junior Master Gardener, shooting sports, photography, Operation Military Kids and much, much more.
Just how beneficial are 4-H activities to youth – and communities? A Tufts University study indicates young people in 4-H are three times more likely to contribute to their communities than youth not participating in 4-H.
Additionally, the research indicated youth in 4-H thrive through the health and science education and career preparation experiences they receive through 4-H programming. Compared to non-4-H youth, 4-Hers are more likely to spend more hours exercising or being physically active. 4-H youth also have higher educational achievement and higher motivation for future education – reporting better grades, higher levels of academic competence and an elevated level of engagement at school.
One example of Alabama youth being changed by 4-H – and these youth changing their community – is in Bibb County. 4-H Regional Extension Agent Joy Maxwell, a product of Alabama 4-H herself, says Bibb County is a great example of 4-H meeting the needs of youth and those youth making an impact on their hometowns.
"I have worked in Bibb County for five years and I must say 4-H has grown by 110 percent," Maxwell said. "While increasing the number of youth, we have also been able to convince local supporters, like the Bibb County Commission, our municipalities and the Bibb County Farmers Federation, our 4-H program is an important part of community and economic development.
"We are also blessed to have formed excellent partnerships with the local schools, both private and public. 4-H programming is now taking place in some form in literally every elementary and middle school in Bibb County.
"With Bibb County being such a rural county, we have 4-H programs fitting every youth in the county. We have in-school clubs, after-school clubs and community clubs like shooting sports and livestock. The after-school and in-school clubs are led by great 4-H volunteers."
Bibb County Extension Coordinator Matthew D. Hartzell agreed with Maxwell about the strong community support, and said support begins within Extension.
"The great teamwork among Extension staff has influenced the growth of Bibb County 4-H," Hartzell remarked. "When people see Ms. Maxwell working so hard, and they see other Extension staff supporting or co-presenting with Ms. Maxwell, they are even more inclined to support our programs."
"The variety of 4-H clubs throughout Bibb County allows youth who attend public school, private school or home school an opportunity to experience the outstanding 4-H programs in the county," Maxwell explained. "We have 4-H members with interests in livestock, poultry, shooting sports, catfish farms and even a 4-H member who sells fresh chicken eggs!"
Maxwell pointed to one club, the West Blocton After-School Club, whose members were especially impacted through a 4-H program.
"They went through a six-week Junior Master Gardener [JMG] program known as Health and Nutrition from the Garden," she said. "The 4-H members absolutely loved this program! They learned so much about food groups, how to prepare healthy snacks and even basic gardening techniques."
The youth, with the assistance of school teachers and other volunteers, applied the information they learned from the JMG program and planted a vegetable garden, which included a local favorite, turnip greens.
"A tradition for West Blocton is to have a turnip green supper each fall during the week of West Blocton High School’s homecoming game," Maxwell said. "The 4-H members picked the turnip greens and put them in the school freezer. This October, the 4-H members will prepare turnip greens for the homecoming supper."
Maxwell said this one program alone has impacted many in the community because of what this club has done.
"It’s been a great way to showcase the values of Alabama 4-H to not just these youth but in the community as well," she said. "The youth learned about gardening, they had the opportunity to plant and take care of the garden, and they will be giving back to the community by preparing the turnip greens for the homecoming game."
Bibb County’s Brent Elementary Afterschool 4-H Club members also like giving back.
"These 4-H members practice generosity by singing and taking holiday items to the residents at the Bibb County Nursing home," she added. "They look forward to it as much as the residents."
Maxwell, who is also a 4-H Regional Extension Agent (REA) in the more urban Shelby County, sees the diversity in the two counties where she works.
"I always say Bibb and Shelby Counties are like summer and winter different, unique in their own special way," Maxwell observed.
"Because of their difference, there are special challenges, but the people and companies in Bibb and Shelby are great about supporting 4-H financially, providing supplies and judging contests.
"Even though Bibb and Shelby are different, I would not have it any other way. I love working in both counties; it is great and very rewarding."
Janet L. McCoy is a Program Coordinator III with Alabama 4-H at Auburn University.