4-H – Helping Heads, Hearts, Hands and Health

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By Helena Tavares Kennedy

You may have heard of 4-H, perhaps in the context of the Prince William County Fair and 4-H’s participation in numerous activities and demonstrations like cattle, goat, rabbit and other farm animal competitions. But 4-H is much more than farming and animal sciences. In fact, many of their hands-on
learning experiences include areas our youth need today, like communications and expressive arts; environmental education and natural resources; jobs, careers and economics; plant and soil sciences; citizenship; family and consumer sciences; health, nutrition and wellness; leadership and personal development; and science and technology.

Programs sponsored by the Prince William County 4-H offer youth ages 5-18 opportunities to gain knowledge, leadership skills and community service using experiential learning opportunities to teach the latest research-based, subject matter knowledge and to foster skill development in effective citizenship, leadership and other life skills.

Something for Everyone
With more 400 youth involved in PWC 4-H community clubs and project clubs each year, you can bet it is a diverse group of youth and leaders, which means the programs are just as diverse. 4-H programs can include horseback riding, shooting sports, teen financial literacy, sewing, building websites, photography, woodworking, gardening, robotics, and more.

Danielle Manko, a parent at the Buckhall Community 4-H Club, said, “4-H is a great resource to develop leadership skills, confidence and integration. My girls love the opportunity to learn about animals and help with handling of animals at the PWC Fair, and I love the opportunity we are getting by learning ASL
(American Sign Language).”

“The ambassador program has given me training in goal setting, resume writing, leadership and presentation skills,” said Chloe Zarling, age 14 and a member of Bulls Eye 4-H Club and a Virginia 4-H Teen Shooting Sports Ambassador. “Recently, I was able to represent 4-H at a major fundraising event and explain how 4-H programs benefit youth and our community.”

MaryBeth Lerch, a 4-H Youth Educator, said, “All of these programs together are what makes us so strong. There are so many different programs to reach so many different kids—the most important program we have is the one that piques the interest of that child.”

For kids who move a lot, 4-H could provide continuity since there are 4-H clubs all around the country they can join. The programs help kids make new friends, get adjusted and learn more about their new community while developing new skills along the way. Julia Lee, an 11-year-old member of the Kettle Run 4-H Club, said, “4-H means I can get together with friends, help our community, and have fun!”

Ashleigh Wright, a 4-H Youth Educator, helps run the Safe at Home, Safe Alone Program that all 4th grade students in Prince William County go through to prepare them for staying home alone for short periods of time. “I love seeing the kids get the confidence they need from the program,” Wright said.

One youth, Richie Clark, joined the 4-H Bulls Eye Shooting Sports Club a few years ago, which led him to several leadership positions within the 4-H community. “What started out as a fun extracurricular activity later became my number-one vessel for leadership positions, such as serving as the president of my club as well as a Virginia Teen Shooting Sports Ambassador,” said Clark. “As a result, I have gained valuable skills in public speaking, leadership and teamwork. Because of travelling with the ambassador program, I have made friends all over Virginia.”

A children’s yoga course is an example of a new 4-H program coming to the region. The healthy living Yoga for Kids program was developed in Arkansas and is designed to increase fitness, decrease stress and improve mental focus within youth in a noncompetitive manner. Wright said, “That’s one of the great
things about being part of a national organization. There is a lot of collaboration that goes on and getting ideas from other 4-H programs around the country.”

Get Involved
New members can join 4-H anytime throughout the year. Some clubs meet year-round while others don’t meet until after the school year ends. You can also sign up for certain projects and overnight and day camps without being a 4-H member.

Parents should keep in mind that 4-H clubs are not drop-off clubs; parents or guardians are expected to play a role as well. “The entire family gets involved, and we encourage parent participation. This is something we can all do together,” Lerch said.

Prince William County 4-H is a nonprofit organization sponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Commonwealth of Virginia, Virginia Cooperative Extension and local government. With one full-time and three part-time employees, they always welcome volunteers to help in the office, lead workshops
and activities, mentor the youth, share their skills, assist with fundraising and financial support, help with grant writing, and more. For more information, contact PWC 4-H by phone at 703-792-6286 or email at 4hpwc@pwcgov.org.

Helena Tavares Kennedy (hkennedy@princewilliamliving.com), a longtime Prince William County resident, is a freelance writer and communications consultant at htkmarketingservices.com and


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