While Waukesha County is the third-most populous county in Wisconsin, it is also home to 23 community 4-H clubs with a total membership of 526 youth guided by 200 adult volunteers.
Even in an urban setting such as Waukesha the UW Extension 4-H program is thriving.
“The strong tradition of agriculture in 4-H youth development is still active, however; it may look a little different than it did 100 years ago,” said Cindy Sarkady, Assistant Professor and 4-H Youth Development Educator for Waukesha County.
One such partnership began over 20 years ago when a group of farmers were concerned over the lack of youth showing cattle at the Waukesha County Fair. Dairy Farmer and owner of Cozy Nook Farm, Tom Oberhaus said farmers reached out to youth and invited them to experience working with livestock.
“One family signed up and then another and it’s grown from there,” Oberhaus said.
Sarkady said Brookfield Blazers 4-H Club members works with Cozy Nook Farm to help youth learn about dairy education, especially those who do not own a dairy cow. The farm also offers experiences with horses too.
“The opportunity to partner with Cozy Nook farm and offer Horseless Horse Educational programs continues to support the tradition of agriculture education in Waukesha County,” Sarkady said.
Since Sarkady arrived in Waukesha County, she has been helping the 4-H program to expand access of positive youth development programs in unique ways such as SPIN clubs.
SPIN clubs are Special Interest opportunities where youth focus on developing their mastery in areas such as Rube Goldberg, Horseless Horse, NEO (nature and Ecology) PetPals, Genealogy and Intro to Spanish.
“These opportunities work with volunteers who have a passion in a specific subject area and want to share their knowledge in a 6 to 8-week youth development experience,” Sarkady said. “The project that youth complete are just the vehicles that help them learn decision making, problem solving, communication skills, the importance of teamwork, and develop confident and self-esteem.
The one thing that youth involved in 4-H will say about their experiences is that they learned how to communicate effectively, Sarkady said.
“You will know a 4-H youth when you meet them. They will look you in the eye, shake your hand, and be able to talk about what they have learned with passion and pride,” Sarkady said. “This doesn’t just happen when they are teen agers, it happens when they start in the program as early as age five.”