LOGAN – Based at the Hocking County Fairgrounds at 150 N. Homer Avenue, is a program through which Hocking County youth help build community and their future.
Hocking County 4-H is a youth development organization through The Ohio State University (OSU), 4-H educator and Hocking County native Kayla Nihiser told the Logan Daily News.
According to OSU, 4-H began in Ohio in 1902 in Clark County as an agricultural club. It grew rapidly and by 1905 over 2,000 young people from 16 counties were members. 4-H officially started in 1916 and as of last year more than 58,000 clubs existed in Ohio.
The 4-H program is an after-school program for children who are at least eight years old and in third grade, or nine years old in any year, said 4-H program assistant Angie Seum. 4-H eligibility ends when members turn 19, according to OSU.
Nihiser, who was a member of Hocking County 4-H growing up, explained that the four Hs represent head, heart, hands and health, which are taken from the 4-H commitment: “My head to clearer thinking / My heart to greater faithfulness / My hands to greater service / and My health to better living / For my club, my community, my country and my world.
Last year, 366 children were enrolled in Hocking County 4-H with an 80% retention rate. Children join the 4-H “clubs” closest to their location. Currently, there are about 20 4-H clubs in the county, Seum said. Notably, some of the county’s 4-H clubs have particularly unique and fun names: “Born in a Barn”, “Rushcreek River Rats”, and the “Southern Hillbillies”.
Each club is also required to perform community service each year, Nihiser said. Popular activities include “care bag” donations, beautification projects, and volunteering at animal shelters.
4-H is partially funded by OSU, the Hocking County Board of Commissioners and 4-H fundraisers, Nihiser said. While explaining what 4-H is and does, she acknowledged that many people give 4-H a strictly agricultural connotation; however, what 4-H really is isn’t exactly what people think at first, she explained.
“(4-H) isn’t what we think of when we think of 4-H; everyone’s like, ‘Oh, it’s the county fair. It’s animals, (pigs) and livestock. But it’s definitely not that – it’s so developed where it’s leadership; it’s much more about developing our youth,” Nihiser explained. “Animals were just the first base.”
Each year, each 4-H child selects a project to receive 4-H credit. About 60% of projects in Hocking County are livestock, while the remaining 40% are “still” projects, Seum said, which are projects like woodworking, baking and other activities.
4-H in 2022 is for kids interested in any subject, Nihiser said; their projects can focus on sewing, STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) subjects like chemistry or rocket science, art, cooking, and more.
“If someone called and said, ‘Hey, hey, I want my kid involved in 4-H (and) that’s what he’s interested in,’ I could (give him) a project idea before I left. the phone.” said Nihiser.
But kids can also choose projects outside of a category, which is what ‘self-determined’ projects are for – projects where kids can determine their own purpose and goals. 4-H staff like Nihiser can also help members with project housing if they need it; some projects are designed for this specific purpose, such as the “Horseless Horse” project for children who do not have access to a horse.
Kids can sign up for as many projects as they want, Nihiser said. however, incomplete projects do not receive credit. The credit is part of the program and is used as a means to track annual project completion; for example, children can be in 4-H for three years, but if they have only completed one project in those two years, they only receive two years of credit.
“(Projects) are everywhere with all kinds of interests,” Nihiser said. “There’s sports, there’s nutrition, there’s babysitting, there’s laundry – there’s so much more than what we just think of as this little, little part of the fairground. county.”
Additionally, Seum oversees the county’s Cloverbud program, which serves children in kindergarten through grade two (or eight), beginning Jan. 1 each year, she said. Cloverbud is the entry level of 4-H and often introduces the program to students, Nihiser said.
The Cloverbuds meet for an hour every other Wednesday at the OSU Extension Office from January through March. Each Seum meeting compiles an agenda for the students – sometimes activities, sometimes presentations – covering topics ranging from chicken life cycles to soil and water. Parents are welcome to stay for Cloverbud meetings.
Besides Cloverbuds, other 4-H-adjacent programs in the county include the Hocking County 4-H Youth Board, for children in grades eight through 12. And at age 14, 4-Hs can become camp counselors at Hocking County 4-H Summer Camp, Camp Otterbein, at 15779 Cox Rd.
This year’s camp will include a one-day camp on July 23 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. for Cloverbuds; and a Junior 4-H Beginner’s Camp from June 10-12, 2022. There are also many state and national camps that 4-H members can attend, Seum said.
Nihiser pointed out that despite 4-H being a statewide and national organization, successful 4-H programs start at the community level — including volunteers. Funding also comes from the county’s 4-H committee, which generates most of its revenue at its food stand at the Hocking County Fair, which runs Sept. 12-18 this year, according to explorehockinghills.com.
The fair is an “exhibition” for 4-H projects, Nihiser said; “It’s mainly market animals that come to the fair and with some small breeding projects… (But) you can (also) exhibit your still projects.”
4-H students are also eligible for 4-H scholarships as they head into the post-secondary world, Nihiser added. Scholarships are awarded on the basis of merit, which means that the more points scored on an application, the more likely the applicant is to receive it.
Usually, scholarships are awarded to a boy and a girl before they finish high school. The main requirement is that students must have been in 4-H for at least six years.
Nihiser grew up doing 4-H, she says. Over the years, she has witnessed how 4-H can transform shy, introverted youth into empowered leaders.
“(4-H) works on their leadership (skills and) taking on new roles in life to really put them above some other peers who might not be as active as they are,” Nihiser said.
For Nihiser, 4-H is above all a multigenerational, family and community tradition. Some volunteers, she said, have been involved with Hocking County 4-H for more than 20 years.
“It’s the people who are really the backbone that keep it going,” Nihiser said.
She is currently working on a promotional project that will feature photos of former 4-H students, she added (photos can be sent with detailed captions to Thompson.firstname.lastname@example.org). A notable 4-H alumnus is Katie Smith of Logan, a three-time Olympic gold medalist who was recently promoted to senior assistant coach for the Minnesota Lynx of the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA).
Those interested in enrolling their children in Hocking County 4-H should contact the OSU Extension Office at (740) 385-3222. The registration deadline for 4-H this year is April 1, but Seum said ideally new members should be in touch with their club by mid-March. Members will be directed to a club closest to them due to the size of the county, Nihiser said. Transportation is not provided by the program.
Anyone can volunteer for 4-H, Nihiser and Seum said, and can also contact the office.