Envision a Nebraska farm kid from 40 years ago. One who went to a one-room rural school.That was me. Doors opened up for me when I joined a 4-H club in Burt County at the age of 10.
I started by working on a variety of projects. I learned basic skills such as gardening, electricity, wood working and baking.
But more than that, I learned confidence, patience, perseverance, problem solving and how to build positive relationships with peers and adults.
As I grew to my teenage years you could find me, as my mom reminds me from time to time, standing on a picnic table in the park at a 4-H day camp for younger children, teaching them about trees and plants.
These experiences led to running a concession stand at the Burt County Fair and later at the Nebraska State Fair as a collegiate 4-H member. As you can imagine, in those situations I practiced leadership, decision making, money management and customer service.
As a teen going to state 4-H Camp in Halsey from year to year, I remember myself saying about a Nebraska 4-H District Specialist, “I don’t really know what he does, but that’s the job I want.” Sure enough, I have ended up with a career in 4-H at the local, state and now federal level. I am certain that without 4-H experiences as a youth, I would not be the professional and leader I am today.
4-H retains its roots in agriculture programming for rural young people. However, the current theme of “4-H Grows True Leaders” is what 4-H is all about.
Programming has expanded into many broad themes including Science, Healthy Living, and Citizenship/Leadership. Today you will find that young 4-H’er in a city, suburb, small community or on a farm.
You will find that a young person grows into a leader by learning how to raise and show sheep, program a robot, lead a community service project or map the availability of healthy foods in their community by using current technology.
4-H opens doors for young people from throughout our country.
Youth are prepared for college and the workforce. Youth develop life skills and technical skills.
As a 4-H member, I did not understand the unique partnership of public and private entities from local, state and federal/national levels that support 4-H.
I knew that 4-H was part of Nebraska Extension. Later, I came to realize that 4-H is a program of the University of Nebraska.
Nebraska 4-H would not be possible without the state’s land-grant institution, whose talented extension agents and many volunteers carry out the 4-H mission in all 93 counties.
Thanks to their efforts and partnerships, Nebraska 4-H reaches one third of Nebraska youth.
This is important to our communities now, not just in the future. Nebraska is fortunate to have strong support for such an impactful youth development endeavor. 4-H does not only develop tomorrow’s leaders, 4-H grows the true leaders of today.
By Doug Swanson, a Nebraska native who now serves as a National Program Leader at 4-H National Headquarters within USDA in Washington, D.C.