Many people hear the term “4-H” and immediately picture stock shows — but that only scratches the surface of everything the program encompasses.
4-H stands for Head, Heart, Hands and Health, which are the four values that members work on through fun and engaging programs.
As the largest youth development organization in the nation, 4-H provides meaningful opportunities for all youth and adults to work together to create sustainable community change.
The organization is divided into five subject matters: agriculture and livestock, family and community health, leadership and citizenship, natural resources and STEM (Science, Technology, Education and Mathematics).
“4-H is generally thought about as the livestock showing animals, which is very, very valuable, and teaches a lot of really good life lessons, but it's way more than just that,” said Hannah Hoffman, Hood County extension agent.
"In the family and community health realm, we do nutrition education, basic cooking skills, consumer and financial education and just overall healthy lifestyle and behavior education. Within our leadership and citizenship, we do a lot of public speaking, research skills and career exploration. In natural resources, that's more of that outdoor education, so wildlife, forestry, water conservation, wildlife fisheries and a big one we have here in Hood County specifically is shooting sports. STEM is your standard robotics, computers, energy, rocketry and photography.”
The five different subject matters are taught by nine clubs in Hood County: Lake Granbury, Tolar 4-H, Lipan 4-H, horse club, sharpshooters, clay gunners, Cornerstone 4-H, food and fashion, and K9 and kids.
“The K9 and kids club is pretty unique in this area for 4-H,” Hoffman said. “Most of the surrounding counties to us do not have a canine program to the extent that we do. They work yearlong training their own dogs to compete in dog shows at the end of the year at the state 4-H dog show, and they are generally very successful. That's not super common around here, so we get a lot of interest in that.”
4-H is open to students who are at least eight years old and in the third grade, to age 18. Children in kindergarten through second grade can register for free as a Clover Kid. Clover Kids are eligible to participate in 4-H projects but cannot compete in contests beyond Hood County.
Projects in Hood County 4-H include: beef, clothing and textiles, consumer education, dairy, dog, foods and nutrition, goats, horse, photography, public speaking, sheep, shooting sports and swine. According to hood.agrilife.org/4-h, members of 4-H can also participate in a livestock judging team, mohair judging team, consumer decision-making team and a horse-judging team. They can also participate in a variety of different contests.
“There's something for everybody, which is what I love. It's way more than just showing your goat at the county show,” Hoffman said.
Enrollment for 4-H is done online at v2.4honline.com.
“What we usually recommend for brand new members is to kind of pick one of those projects, pick one of those interest areas that you like, find the club that matches up with it and start there,” Hoffman said. “Each club meets monthly at different times and different days throughout the month. I tell them, ‘Pick a club and start going to those monthly meetings and stay in touch with our social media.’ We send out a newsletter to just our 4-H members every month that tells them kind of what's going on beyond their individual clubs.”
Students can sign up for 4-H at any point during the year. Enrollment between Sept. 1 and Oct. 31 will cost $20. After Oct. 31, enrollment will increase to $25.
The 4-H kickoff took place on Sept. 8, at the reunion grounds, where representatives from each nine clubs educated the youths about their clubs and what supplies they would need in order to participate.
“It was an event for us to bring in people who are unfamiliar with 4-H, so that they can meet with each of those clubs in one room and kind of figure out which one they want to focus their time on,” Hoffman said.
Hoffman encourages students to join 4-H due to the many unique opportunities and extracurriculars available in the organization.
"It gives you a really good opportunity to explore some of those things that you never would have otherwise,” she added. “Shooting sports or the dog training, those are things that you're not going to get in school or in an after-school club. It gives you an opportunity to try something new and potentially opens up opportunities down the road.
“4-H provides a lot of really great leadership opportunities as well, which has helped out our older students who are applying to colleges and trade schools. It gives them a good experience for those applications, along with training and experience in public speaking, which helps in interviews and careers. 4-H provides students with a lot of really great life skills that I think they can use on a day-to-day basis for the rest of their life.”
For more information about 4-H, go online to hood.agrilife.org/4-h.