4-H possibilities day draws on long heritage to bring in youth for learning, personal growth, fun


By Cynthia Price

Imagine the Blue and Gold Room at Muskegon Community College filled with 50 or 60 rambunctious, energy-filled kids from ages five to 19 who have just spent the morning learning in breakout sessions and eaten a nice box lunch.

What do you do? Well, if you’re the 4-H, you drag out a whole lot of huge balls in baskets that will stand in as drums and take the youth through an exercise program with the Muskegon Drum Crew, backed by lively (and loud) music.

“Who here can yell and make a lot of noise?” asked Christian Deal, who led the exercise. As the roar died down, he said, “Well, in just a few minutes you can do just that, but you have to be patient while we get set up.”

The lengthy exercise session, in which some of the adult parents also participated, ended th 4-H Celebrate the Possibilities Day with a bang.

The day is intended to let people know just what the 4-H Program has to offer.

And, according to Coordinator Tonya Pell, the Muskegon program has had quite some time to get it right.

“A fun fact – the Muskegon 4-H has been around since 1902,” she says. “Muskegon and Mason were the first two counties in Michigan to adopt it.”

That coincides with the very beginnings of 4-H, which is credited to a man named A.B. Graham in Ohio. Though he did not call it 4-H at the time, it served the purpose of helping educate young people in agricultural techniques – with which it is still often identified – and create leaders and confident adults along the way.

When the Cooperative Extension Service started in 1914, by an act of Congress, the youth clubs fell under Extension’s umbrella. (Extension is run by the land grant university in each state, which in our case is Michigan State University.)

The name 4-H Club came shortly after that. Many will remember the green four-leaf clovers with a white H on each leaf, but those who have not been involved with 4-H may not know that the H’s stand for “head, heart, hands, and health”?(see page 12) and are taken from the 4-H 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.”

The 4-H Program has undergone a lot of changes, moving from its more rural base to include everyone, and is now thought of as a personal development program for youth.

“There are a lot of different activities, and it goes according to what the different clubs want,” says Pell. She notes that all 4-H volunteers are thoroughly vetted, including reference checks, and suggests that anyone interested in volunteering contact her by phone, 231-724-4739, or email, pelltony@msu.edu.

Currently, the 4-H has an emphasis on arts and crafts, livestock raising and growing food, science activities, and “just plain having fun,” Pell says. There is often, but not always, a competition related to the activities.

At the March 9 Celebrate the Possibilities Day, the morning featured a choice of four different education sessions for kids to attend, loosely corresponding to participants’ ages.

Frank Cox, who was long the 4-H Coordinator, helping to shape the program in Muskegon, but is now an MSU Educator, talked to older kids about money management; Alicia Kantola taught “biosecurity,” such as washing one’s hands, to younger children; Nancy Hartman  did a bean and glue silhouette craft project; and Clarence Rudat, formerly of Montague Schools but now at MCC as the Coordinator - Institute of Agricultural Technology (MSU), taught the kids how to make ice cream and butter, using liquid nitrogen and bringing in science concepts.

For more information, contact Pell or visit www.canr.msu.edu/muskegon/4-h/