Albert Belmont Graham saw a need 120 years ago in Clark County, Ohio. Adults were not accepting new agricultural developments from universities. Young people were more open-minded. At that time, Graham was the school superintendent. He started the Springfield Township Boys and Girls Agricultural Club in January 1902 to address this need.
According to Ohioline, the online home for OSU fact sheets, this club’s goal was to teach “harvesting, gardening, testing soil samples, knot tying, and the identification of insects and weeds.”
The club model had a leader who was a topic expert teaching children five to 18 years old outside of school time. In this way, young people learned about these new ideas. In turn, they shared them with adults. These ideas then became acceptable to more people over time.
By 1924, the club name changed to 4-H. Over the years, specific clubs became multi-project. Project leaders are not now content experts. Instead, volunteers recruit other volunteers with knowledge in certain areas. Project books have subject-specific material. Twenty-two different themes cover a wide range of research-based topics. Leadership, community service, and learning are key elements. Today, 4-H is a youth development program that includes learning life skills through hands-on, experiential learning opportunities.
Vinton County’s rural status- roughly 13,000 people living amongst rolling hills and forests- limits the amount of extracurricular activities available to area youth compared to other parts of Ohio with more people. Transportation is a challenge for some in Ohio’s last frontier. Because of this, activities outside of the school day can be harder to access.
Vinton County’s 4-H program is reflective of the needs in the county. This non-profit has different staffing levels. In Vinton, that includes an Educator and a Program Assistant. School enrichment, after-school programs, and day and residential camping are the primary focuses of 4-H in Vinton County.
Most of what 4-H does here is school enrichment, but finding meeting places has been challenging in the past. Meeting at schools instead of in homes allows access for more students and also lessens transportation barriers. School activities center on STEM topics. Children work alone and in groups. These activities expose them to both skills and careers that classroom teachers do not have time to cover.
Camping is another opportunity to engage with different adults. Teens teach younger children after receiving training. They can become counselors and role models. For youth, it is a time to be away from home where they can try new things. They can be creative and come up with solutions on their own. They learn that multiple ways exist to get to where you want to be. These activities often would not happen in a club setting. AT 4-H camp, they can and do happen in a safe place.
Travis West is the 4-H Extension Educator for Vinton County. For 16 years, he has worked within this capacity. When he was younger, he lived in Albany and was in 4-H for eight years. His livestock projects included beef cattle, rabbits, and swine. Coming out of college, he never thought that he would be working with 4-H. He completed a degree in management and finance. His father was a bank manager in Vinton County when he was a boy. Because of that, he already knew the area.
As Travis puts it, obtaining this job was “the lining of the stars”. Everything fell into place at the right time. He definitely enjoys working with area youth.
According to Travis, this year several teenagers applied to be camp counselors for the first time. Some had never been to camp before or had never been in 4-H before. They learned a lot. Some said that they really wished that they had done this sooner. In the past, a few club members have been successful at the state level. They serve as inspirations for those who are up and coming.
Some members talk about their ten-minute interviews with the judge at the fair. In retrospect, the more projects that they did, the easier it became. Leadership programs exist for teens. Overnight retreats build job leadership and interview skills. Videotaped mock interviews become eye-opening experiences. One parent told Travis that she lost her job of 21 years. Her son, a Vinton County 4-H member, mock interviewed her. It helped her get another job.
Former 4-H members grow up to be 4-H advisory committee members or are on the Fair Board later in life. They continue to exhibit the leadership skills that 4-H taught them well as youth. Audrey Robson is one fine example of the lifelong benefits of 4-H. Once a camp counselor, she is now a social worker in the Juvenile Justice System. For three years, Audrey also has had a 4-H club for those involved in the Juvenile Court. Even though her job is now in Ross County, she continues to oversee the Vinton County club.
This year 4-H celebrates its 100th birthday in Vinton County. A special cake will highlight this centennial occasion at the fair. This year’s fair book design will also reflect this historic event.
The fair will take place in McArthur from July 25 through July 30.