The 4-H Club of previous generations was traditionally considered an agriculture and home economics program consisting of fundamental skill courses like sewing, cooking, farming and horticulture. However, the 4-H of today has transitioned into a leadership-focused program encompassing a child's full spectrum of needs including school subjects and life skills in order to mold productive citizens for the future.
Sullivan County 4-H, the youth development program for the University of Tennessee Extension and Tennessee State University Cooperative Extension, is doing its part to develop the leaders of tomorrow by providing curriculum-oriented, in-school and after-school programming, educational camps, exhibitions and activities to supplement the education children receive through the local school systems.
“4-H offers life skills,” said Vickie Clark, extension agent for 4-H in Sullivan County. “That's really what we're doing. We're supplementing or enriching the experiences [the kids] have in school with those additional things they're going to need to become productive citizens in our society.”
4-H is available countywide to any child in grades 4 through 12.
“We have over 1,800 4-Hers enrolled in Sullivan County,” Clark said. “We meet in almost all of the schools in the county system.”
In addition, 4-H programming is offered for home-schooled youth, after-school clubs and project interest groups with support from 4-H volunteer leaders.
“Our biggest limit is manpower,” said Walter Malone, extension agent for Sullivan County 4-H.
In-school programming occurs monthly through the Sullivan County 4-H division. However, special interest “hands-on” activities are provided consistently throughout the year; each one designed to promote the “intangibles” 4-H offers its young members: leadership, citizenship, responsibility and teamwork.
A citizenship program, Clark described as “really exceptional,” has been offered to fifth-grade students in partnership with the county for 35 years.
“At the end of the school year, we'll take one fifth-grader from each class and they get to tour the county offices so that they learn where everything is,” Clark said. “[And] they meet all their county officials.”
She said public speaking is another “real strong program for 4-H, that will benefit them more than anything they could do.”
Clark and Malone agree communication skills are vital for children to carry with them into college and the business world. Whether debating in class or interviewing with a potential employer, “you've got to tell them what you can do.”
Malone said special interest 'project groups' like livestock group, horse group, tech group and GPS group meet once a month and also participate in activities and events.
Periodically throughout the year, judging teams are formed, where Malone said, “four kids work together [and] study a given topic: livestock, forestry, wildlife or consumer decision skills.”
Life skills and consumer decision-making, based on economics, was added as a topic in the last five years as a reflection of “the changes in society,” Clark explained. “They're learning how to make those kind of purchasing decisions and what to base them on.”
County events involving public speaking, demonstrations and photography also take place throughout the year.
“Just this year, we had three winners out of the top 12 in the State 4-H Photo Search Contest,” Clark said.
High school 4-Hers, likewise, have the opportunity to compete in the Tennessee 4-H Round Up where they are scored both on their year's participation in 4-H programs and on an interview with judges. State project winners receive scholarships for college.
Darren Davis of Dobyns-Bennett High School and Nicki Johnson of Central High School were recently named the state Healthy Lifestyle Ambassadors after undergoing training to encourage people to eat properly and exercise as part of a healthier lifestyle.
This is “through a statewide 4-H partnership with United Healthcare,” Malone said. This year's campaign is “Move 4-Health.”
Upcoming events include the Appalachian Fair, which will house 4-H youth exhibits from Sullivan County and all surrounding counties in East Tennessee.
“There's an entire building for 4-H exhibits at the fair,” Malone said. And, exhibits include “almost anything you can think of... from traditional items like sewing, crafts, gardening [and] eggs to photography, recycled creations, bug collections for entomology, jams and jellies, and educational awards.”
A table setting exhibit was even added in the last few years to allow kids the opportunity to create and show interesting table settings, Clark said. There will also be a biscuit-baking demonstration by 4-H representatives from each county on each day of the fair (Monday, Aug. 19, is Sullivan County's day) for visitors walking through the 4-H building .
Whatever programs the children of Sullivan County 4-H are involved in, they “learn by doing,” and this is important because, as Malone said “you always hear about (how) 'the kids are the future,' but they're also the now.”
For more information on Sullivan County 4-H, visit the website at: https://utextension.tennessee.edu/sullivan or call 423-279-2723.