The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK


March 29, 2014

Today’s 4-H creating blue ribbon kids

ENID, Okla. — 4-H, the nation’s largest youth development organization, is nothing new.

In fact, it has been around for more than 100 years.

But where 4-H used to be centered around teaching young people about livestock, agriculture and homemaking activities such as canning, sewing and cooking, today the organization focuses on leadership and citizenship.

This is not your grandfather’s 4-H, said Jim Rhodes, 4-H youth development program specialist for the Northwest District of Oklahoma, which includes 1,986 members.

“We change with the times but we still are able to give kids this opportunity to excel,” said Rhodes. “It’s not so much about the blue ribbon project, but we create blue ribbon kids.”

The program may change, but the goal doesn’t, helping young people reach their full potential.

“We are able to go find the new project to get to the same end product,” said Rhodes. “We still have our traditional bases of programming, which are livestock, sewing and cooking, but probably the biggest growth has been through the shooting sports project.”

In the Northwest District, Rhodes said, some 750 young people are involved in the 4-H shooting sports program. That encompasses trap shooting, archery, .22, air pistol and air rifle.

Twice a year, in spring and fall, the Northwest District holds a trap shoot at Grand National Gun Club north of Enid. The event usually attracts some 100 shooters.

Archery is perhaps the fastest growing aspect of 4-H shooting sports.

“You think back to when you were kids, bows and arrows were kind of a cool thing,” said Rhodes. “Well, bows and arrows are still kind of cool.”

The prime emphasis of the shooting sports program is safety.

“We teach safety,” Rhodes said. “It’s not so much about, did you get a perfect score, but it’s about safety. They’ve got to learn it from somewhere. They had just as well learn it from us.”

Robotics is another new 4-H program that is growing, said Rhodes, as part of the organization’s emphasis on science, technology, engineering and math.

“There is interest in the science and technology clubs,” he said.

Beaver County has a thriving robotics club that recently competed in the LEGO robotics competition in Liberal, Kan.

One change 4-H has had to cope with is increased competition for young people’s time. Still, Rhodes said, the organization endures.

“The constant that 4-H has is that we give kids an opportunity to excel in a niche that they can kind of create for themselves,” Rhodes said.

4-H offers more than 50 programs in which children from 9 to 19 can participate, but Rhodes said the group’s largest enrollment lies in the 9 to 14 age group.

Young people who stay in 4-H from 9-19 are the ones in which the greatest changes occur, said Rhodes, as they morph from shy 9-year-olds first trying their hands at public speaking into confident teenagers.

“That’s where you really see the growth in them, if they’ll stick with you for 10 years,” he said. “All of a sudden at 14 they blossom into this young lady or young man that can stand up and lead a workshop or stand up in front of 1,000 people.”

This is livestock show season, so that is perhaps the most visible element of 4-H. Some 800 exhibitors, many of them in 4-H, recently took part in the 80th annual Northwest District Junior Livestock Show. This year’s premium sale brought in $142,450.

In all, there are 758 young people enrolled in the Northwest District’s livestock project. For many families, said Rhodes, showing livestock has become a family tradition.

“The parents had the tradition of showing livestock, and they realize what they learned from showing livestock, and they want their kids to enjoy those same experiences,” said Rhodes. “You learn responsibility, and as the kids get a little older they learn time management. You also learn a little bit about economics.”

Developing leaders and good citizens is one prime emphasis of 4-H.

“There are several kids right here in Garfield County that are holding state leadership positions and district leadership positions,” said Rhodes.

Ricki Schroeder, of Garfield County, is state 4-H president, while Carter Postier is Northwest District vice president and James Olmstead is a state council representative. Local 4-H clubs include one that meets at Vance Air Force Base.

4-H members are taught to do for others, said Rhodes, whether that be Christmas caroling at a nursing home or taking part in the Horn of Plenty food drive.

The 4-H’s Northwest District encompasses 17 counties in the northwest quadrant of the state, from Noble, Grant and Kay all the way to the Oklahoma Panhandle.

Volunteers make 4-H go, said Rhodes. The organization’s programs are coordinated by extension educators in each of the 17 counties, but “we rely on volunteers just a tremendous amount to conduct our programs. 4-H would not function without a team of volunteers.” In all, there are 208 4-H volunteers in the Northwest District.

4-H also sponsors school enrichment programs, in which extension educators visit local schools and teach courses like nutrition, ag in the classroom and farm safety.

“We reach another 7,000 kids through that program,” said Rhodes.

Rhodes has been involved in 4-H since his youth in Bovina, Texas. He has worked for 4-H for 27 years. Previously he was an extension educator. He has been in his present position for about a year.

Moving forward, Rhodes said, 4-H programs like shooting sports and livestock will continue to be strong, but “I think you’ll see us make a move into the science and technology field. Who knows what technology is going to do, but we’re going to have to evolve wherever that evolves and how it evolves to reach the kids.”

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