The most gratifying moment for Chippewa County 4-H Youth Development Agent Jackie Johnson is watching a 4-H member grow and evolve as they move through the 4-H program.
"It is so rewarding to see a 4-H member as a Cloverbud who is scared to speak in front of others and 6-7 years later is serving in a leadership role such as a camp counselor," Johnson said.
Located in northwest Wisconsin, Johnson oversees 14 active 4-H clubs across the county. Last year, 425 youth participated in the program with 150 adult volunteers helping to guide their efforts.
Johnson said the youngest members of the 4-H program, members who are in 5K-second grades, are involved in Cloverbuds, an exploratory, non-competitive project where youth get to learn about an array of different projects.
"Third graders have the option to take a multitude of projects from shooting sports to arts and crafts to mechanical sciences to animal projects. Youth select project areas they are most interested in learning and work on those areas throughout the year," she said.
In July, the youth bring their projects to our county fair, the Northern Wisconsin State Fair, to be evaluated and on display for all to see. The top project areas in Chippewa County 4-H include: archery, foods and nutrition, photography, swine and arts and crafts.
Besides the project area, 4-H has a variety of activities at the club and county levels. Each month, clubs have meetings and an activity or community service project members and leaders participate in.
At the county level, there are a number of areas youth can participate. The county shooting sports program is very popular with 4-H members. The disciplines include: archery, air rifle, air pistol, .22 pistol, shotgun and muzzle loading. Most disciplines have a six-week program, participants go to practice at various ranges across the county.
The practices are supported with certified and trained adult volunteers. Through this program, youth learn precision, accuracy, attention to detail, patience, working with others and understanding themselves. Youth can be very involved in this program and take their skills to state and national level competitions.
4-H summer camp is another popular program 4-H members get the opportunity to participate in. Each July, there are two camp program opportunities, day camp for youth who completed 5K-third grade and overnight camp for campers who completed third grade through eighth grades. The camp program is supported by an adult committee and is planned, implemented and evaluated by teen counselors.
"The great part of 4-H is the relationships built especially as the younger youth look up to the high school youth (many whom become teen counselors or youth leaders)," Johnson said. "The high school youth don’t realize the impact they have on those 4-H members. In return as the young 4-H members grow through the program, they are soon the 4-H members the next generation is looking up to."
4-H has broadened its horizons by focusing on STEM or Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. Each fall, Chippewa, Dunn and Eau Claire counties host a STEM camp for youth in grades three through five. It’s a hands-on day where participants experiment with science, engineer structures and learn why something works the way it does. This year, the camp is partnering with BlueGold Beginnings and expanding to 4-H and non 4-H participants.
The 4-H program focuses on experiential learning or learning by doing. As youth participate in different projects or activities they are exposed to various life skills they will rely on the rest of their life. Some of the life skills youth learn in 4-H include: decision making, relating to change, understanding others, understanding self, organization, record keeping, communication and listening skills.
"There are so many skills youth learn in 4-H," Johnson said. "Youth learn to give to those who are less fortunate and to think about others as they make decisions."
Johnson said parental or supporting adult involvement is also key to success in 4-H. If the parents/guardians/supporting adults attend 4-H programs with their children, there is better follow-up at home and more support of the youth as they progress through 4-H.
"In 4-H, families make lifelong friends," Johnson pointed out.