By JEANNIE WILEY WOLF
The Hancock County
4-H program has 100 reasons to celebrate this year.
According to Cassie Anderson, Hancock County OSU Extension educator for 4-H youth development, 4-H in Hancock County is marking its centennial in 2020.
“From records, we know the first ag agent was hired in 1919 for Hancock County and a 4-H person was hired in 1923, so 1920 makes sense,” she said.
Anderson said the oldest county clubs operating are about 80 years old.
“And there are older ones that aren’t with us anymore, but there are still some clubs in that well-tenured age,” she said.
The Hancock County 4-H Program is gearing up for another busy season. 4-H Week will be observed March 8-14, with the annual family kickoff set for 6 p.m. March 9 at First Presbyterian Church, 2330 S. Main St.
The 200-plus volunteers involved with 4-H have already had their kickoff meeting to learn about new events planned for the year. Anderson said volunteers serve as club advisors and with specific programs such as Shooting Sports.
“Shooting sports specifically is a program in our county. It’s not a club. The kids have to be part of a community 4-H club, and then they can take Shooting Sports,” she said.
Certified instructors are required for the program, which includes a broad gamut of projects ranging from rifles and pistols to muzzleloaders and living history.
“And you would think, would you really need a certified instructor? Well, yes, because living history, that person can create a character that might carry or utilize a firearm from the past,” she explained.
New this year is Western heritage, which is living history from the Western cowboy perspective, she said.
There are 42 active clubs in Hancock County, the newest being the Bakin’ Critters Club that focuses on cake decorating.
Anderson said there are on average 875 youth enrolled in the traditional program, and 4-H is represented in all of the Findlay City and Hancock County schools, including Riverdale.
Online enrollment was implemented last year, although new families are asked to do a paper enrollment.
“So we’re streamlining and moving with the age. We are staying current,” said Anderson.
The youngest members are Cloverbuds who are at least in kindergarten and 5 years old as of Jan. 1 through the end of second grade and 8 years old. Cloverbuds is a noncompetitive, activity-driven program that “gives children a ‘taste’ of 4-H,” Anderson said.
Each child works with an adult partner, whether it’s a parent, grandparent, cousin or friend. There is a countywide Cloverbuds Club, but some of the individual clubs have Cloverbuds as well.
Project 4-H is open to youth who are 8 and in third grade, or 9 as of Jan. 1, through Dec. 31 of the year they turn 19.
“Everything we do in 4-H is based on research-based curriculum development, thinking about ages and stages, thinking about what their needs are at that age,” Anderson said. “It’s important to us. That’s why we have age requirements. Our materials are written to that age level. It kind of builds and develops as we go.”
There are introductory or beginner level projects, intermediate projects and advanced projects, she said. There are also some that are good for all ages, with many of the livestock projects falling into that category.
“So there’s not beginner pigs, but you might be a beginner taking a pig project,” Anderson said.
In all, over 200 projects are available. Information can be found at https://projectcentral.ohio4h.org/
“I can tell you that cake decorating is probably always going to be popular, at least in our county,” she said.
But it’s not just about doing the project. It’s also learning to apply what they’ve learned in other areas of their lives.
“If I’m taking a leadership project, it’s not just club leadership. It’s me being a leader in my school or me being a leader in my youth group, all those pieces of how they process and work with each other. And all of that is driven by positive youth-adult partnerships,” Anderson said.
Meetings are run by members, but adult volunteers are there to help.
All volunteers go through a selection process with an application, interview and background check.
Anderson said some clubs have already started meeting for the year.
Judging is held in July. At that time, members will have an opportunity to share what they’ve learned with an adult in an interview setting.
“Being comfortable to talk to an adult, to walk up to somebody, to be able to introduce yourself, shake hands, smile and sit down and have a conversation, that’s huge when we’re talking about life skills,” Anderson said.
She said there are also programs that help youth who may have special needs. 4-H Buddies pairs participants with a special need with an experienced mentor who will help guide them through the completion of their project.
“We sit down and figure out what accommodations can help them have a positive 4-H experience,” said Anderson. “We don’t want 4-H to be a hindrance. We want it to be a learning experience.”
“It’s just like our 4-H pledge,” she added. “We’re developing the heads, hands, heart and health. And we’re always constantly working to make the best better.”