Rural, picturesque Kewaunee County is steeped in a rich tradition of 4-H Youth Development.
Ransom Asa Moore, noted as the Father of Wisconsin 4-H, was born in Kewaunee County. Moore started Young People’s Contest Clubs in Kewaunee County when he served as the superintendent of schools. The success of these clubs was noticed and Moore was asked to lead the agriculture short course at UW-Madison.
By 1904, he started what would eventually become known as the WI 4-H program. The strong 4-H tradition Moore began over 100 years ago remains ever present in Kewaunee County. Today, there are approximately 500 4-H youth and 130 volunteers are involved in 4-H.
The 13 clubs throughout Kewaunee County offer youth easy access to become a member. Most 4-H clubs have meetings for the entire membership once a month. During these meetings, youth members make club decisions, experience hands-on educational activities, and participate in club recreation. Beyond the 4-H clubs, youth are involved in various projects of their choosing.
While the Kewaunee County 4-H program remains immersed in customs, ritual, family legacies, and an inclusive environment, it is future driven to meet the needs of youth in the 21st century. Life skill development, youth voice, and creating an inclusive community environment remain the steady constant throughout the program.
4-H focuses on experiential learning and building life skills through projects from animal science to cultural arts, to foods and nutrition to science and technology.
Youth have the opportunity to voice their opinions, make decisions, and take on an active role in what happens with their organization. A recent 4-H Program Graduate noted that “4-H has greatly helped me with my self-confidence. Before 4-H, I’d always been very shy. Once I started it, my leaders and friends encouraged me to come out of my comfort zone. I soon became confident in my own opinions and who I was as a person.”
In addition, Kewaunee County has an active 4-H Teen Association for members in 7th-13th grade. Members of the teen association are actively involved in the 4-H program and the community at large. The group plans educational, community service, social activities for teens, other 4-H youth, and families in Kewaunee County.
One of the 4-H Teen Association’s goals is to give young people a place where they can use their voice and skills to make a difference in their community.
“Often, there is a misconception about youth not wanting to be engaged in their community. In actuality, the young people in our communities are looking for a place where they can use their voice and their opinions are given serious consideration,” said Jill Jorgensen, Kewaunee County 4-H Youth Development Educator. “One distinctive feature of the 4-H program is that youth and adults have an equal voice. They work together through youth and adult partnerships to plan, organize, make decisions, teach, and in all facets of the 4-H program.”
Jorgensen says the 130 adult volunteers are the heart of the Kewaunee County 4-H program.
“The dedication and passion of the Kewaunee County 4-H volunteers is unmatched. Volunteers give willingly of their talent and time to provide opportunities for members to grow in their youth leadership experience,” Jorgensen said. “One thing that makes the 4-H volunteer experience unique is that we work together with youth not just for them. We strive to create youth and adult partnerships and encourage youth leadership at all levels of 4-H.”
Renee VanDonsel, a Kewaunee County club and project leader said working with youth was a very a positive endeavor. “It is the most rewarding experience to work with youth. You can see the joy they have in their accomplishments and watch them grow into future leaders.”
4-H club leader and 4-H Teen Association advisor Debbie Olson says not only have her own children benefited from the 4-H organization, other youth will have that same opportunity thanks to 4-H/
“The youth involved in 4-H learn valuable life skills and have the chance to experience things that they will not have in any other place,” Olson said. “I watch the children grown from little Cloverbuds into these amazing young people that are leaders in our community. I actually feel like I get as much from the experience as the youth do.”