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Youth Still Drawn To 4-H Activities
By Crystel Bailey
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- More and more Mississippi 4-Hers are pledging their head, heart, hands and health toward improving themselves and their communities through special programs.
"Membership totals for 2000 are not yet in, but membership increased by 38 percent from 1998 to 1999, totaling 100,896 youths involved in 4-H in Mississippi last year," said Susan Holder, 4-H state leader at Mississippi State University's Extension Service.
The 4-H program is made up of members ranging in ages from kindergarten to 12th grade, but most 4-H members in Mississippi are elementary-aged children. More than half of Mississippi 4-Hers live in the open country or in towns with a population under 10,000.
"Nearly half of Mississippi 4-Hers come from minority racial- ethnic groups," Holder said.
Besides growing in numbers and diversity of membership, 4-H has new programs that educate youth in several areas, such as taking care of the environment or learning how to read for fun.
The 4-H Field and Stream program, which helps youth develop skills in wildlife and fisheries, hunting and shooting, has been around a while; but new features, such as a national shooting competition, a sport fishing program, and wildlife and fisheries teaching aids are bringing more 4-H interaction to Mississippi.
"The Wildlife and Fisheries School Enrichment Modules provide third and fourth grade teachers with ready-made, easy-to-use educational tools that help them teach their students about animals. So far, we have developed a module on white-tailed deer and fish, and are completing a module on bob white quail," said Dean Stewart, Extension associate in the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries at MSU.
Another project designed for the classroom is Horse Book in a Bucket. This program offers first through third graders an incentive to learn. It includes a bucket full of items relating to horses, such as feed containers, books, horseshoes and horse posters, that not only inform students about horses, but excite them about learning.
"It's important to reach these children now because they are at a critical age when they want to learn," Holder said.
4-H is placing a new focus on technology by creating web sites and having several technology-related projects for 4-Hers.
An E-mail Club will provide 4-H members with opportunities to share ideas and information with one another and ask questions they have on any 4-H related topics.
Other special projects include community service and 4-H Day.
"Community Pride is a unique grants and awards program sponsored by Chevron and administered by the 4-H Department at MSU-Extension Service. Its purpose is to enhance youth development by providing incentives for youth to improve their communities," Holder said.
4-H Day, Oct. 14 at the Mississippi State Fair in Jackson, gives 4-Hers an opportunity to showcase 4-H, thus the theme: "Showcase of Excellence." A big exhibit, called "4-H Village," will showcase livestock, field crops, baking and recipes, fashion, entomology displays and more. A public speaking contest will be held for ages 8 to 18, and there will be an event for 4-Hers to showcase their talents. Other activities include a beef, poultry and pork cookout, sport fishing, butterfly petting exhibit and fashion review.
"4-H offers young people opportunities to become local leaders in their communities, and in turn, those communities are strong because they have caring, competent young citizens," Holder said.
For more information about 4-H membership and volunteer opportunities, please contact the local Extension agent.