There are few, if any, organizations that teach young people more life skills than 4-H.
The venerable organization, often associated with raising animals, is in reality a broad-based organization for fourth-graders through high school seniors, delving into an array of pursuits from photography and science to sewing and horticulture.
Then there is public speaking, a bread-and-butter offering that tends to put a bow on whatever else 4-Hers are doing.
“It takes a lot of time, and you have to work for it if you want to do well,” said Crater High senior David Gladman, who has parlayed his interests and work ethic into national competitions.
The four H’s are covered in the organization’s pledge: “I pledge my Head to clearer thinking, my Heart to greater loyalty, my Hands to larger service, and my Health to better living, for my club, my community, my country and my world.”
Kylah Reynolds, Oregon State University Extension Service 4-H Education Program assistant, said there are 670 active 4-H youth members and 250 adult volunteers in 80 clubs covering more than 50 project areas.
Gladman got an early start as a third-grader because his older siblings were involved.
“My older brother started with rabbits and moved on to large animals,” he said. “I did cattle, goats, pigs, sheep — and then I branched out with a little cooking and shotgun shooting.”
Gladman has advanced to become a junior leader and a judge for animal competitions. When he was raising steers, he spent 10 hours a week in that pursuit, while other elements consumed 20 to 30 hours.
“You can control how much time you put into it, but I loved the competitions,” Gladman said.
Makena Clevenger, a home-schooled freshman who lives on 10 acres outside Central Point, followed in the path of her mom and aunts.
“I fell in love with it when I was very young,” she said, rattling off teamwork, working hard and leadership skills among the lessons learned.
“It teaches you to get up early and work to the best of your ability,” Clevenger said. “There’s public speaking, which helps when you apply for a job. They teach you to look straight into the eye and talk with confidence.”
During spring break, Clevenger traveled to Arizona with her family — and eight hogs — for a competition in Phoenix.
Her reserve champion was auctioned off, three leased hogs were returned to the breeder, and four were brought home. Perhaps her favorite activity, however, is something called jackpotting: One-day events throughout the year with multiple age groups for youngsters preparing animals for major competitions with highly qualified judges.
“It’s like a county fair, but you don’t butcher sheep afterwards,” Clevenger said. “There can be awards involved, but you go there for the experience to get sheep, pigs and steers ready for the county fair.”
Like most volunteer organizations, the key is to find people willing to put in long hours for the benefit of others.
Dianne Miller got involved with the local 4-H movement more than 40 years ago. Fresh from Southern California with a young son and daughter, she got them involved with the club.
“We came up from the Orange County suburbs,” Miller said. “Both my husband and I were raised in rural settings, and we thought it would be good for the kids.”
Her son pursued his interest in entomology, while her daughter took on cooking projects.
“The only animals they raised were chickens and rabbits,” Miller said. “Then they graduated, but I didn’t, I just kept on helping.”
She eventually put in time at the OSU Extension office.
Patty Bunch, an art club volunteer, said one of the top benefits of 4-H was the confidence it instilled in its members. That stems from a focus on leadership, citizenship, community service, life skills and working as a team.
“A lot of people think 4-H is all about the program,” Bunch said. “That’s not what it’s about. I tell parents this isn’t free art lessons, it’s learning to become a responsible adult.
“I’ve seen children come in so shy that they won’t even speak,” Bunch said. “Within a year they become secretary of the club, which involves public speaking. There are a lot of opportunities that they may or may not have in school.”
Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GregMTBusiness or www.facebook.com/greg.stiles.31.