SALEM, Ohio — More than 6 million youth involved in 4-H throughout the nation start each club meeting with the following mantra:
“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.”
Each year, 4-H youth focus on community service just as much as club fairs, activities and fundraisers.
“A lot of people don’t realize that there’s a lot more to 4-H than just showing cows, especially with our clubs,” said Mark Dobay, a 4-H volunteer and father of 14-year-old 4-H member Elijah.
Dobay helped to organize a service project this summer for Rita Kibler, a breast cancer survivor who was renewing her vows with husband Gary for their 35th wedding anniversary.
More than 20 youth, parents and advisers surprised Kibler by getting her house and yard ready for the celebration. Participating organizations were the Trumbull County 4-H Club, the Cows ‘R Us 4-H Club and the Very Good Kow Growers Club.
Dobay said the volunteers pulled weeds, did yard work, laid mulch and helped paint so that Kibler, a former 4-H adviser, could enjoy her special day.
“She’s done a lot for the youth in this area, and we just wanted to return the favor,” Dobay said.
One of those youth is Dobay’s son Elijah, who has been able to travel with the Kibler family to the Ashtabula and Canfield fairs. Elijah is also looking forward to going to World Dairy Expo for the first time with the Kiblers in October.
Elijah said he has enjoyed the opportunity to give back to Rita Kibler, and he thinks service projects are an important lesson for youth like him.
“It shows us how if you help other people out, they’ll help you, too,” he said.
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Community service projects are as varied as the club members themselves. While Trumbull County youth helped a former adviser, Mahoning County 4-H‘ers conducted an environmental service project.
The Stockmen’s Market Livestock 4-H Club of Mahoning County raised funds by selling pepperoni rolls and used those funds to purchase four white amur fish for Bricker Homestead Park in Goshen Township.
The fish are known for being an effective control of aquatic weeds.
About 22 youth participated in the project and were able to learn about environmentally friendly practices, such as utilizing natural methods of weed control.
With the funds they raised, the 4-H’ers also purchased a pond safety kit from the Mahoning Soil and Water Conservation District, which also provided the fish.
“We hope this practice of giving back to the community carries through with these youth as they become adults,” said Missy Criss, head adviser of the club.
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This hope is shared among many 4-H leaders, including David Crawford, Stark County Extension director and educator.
“The mission of 4-H, besides providing learning and leadership opportunities, is to instill a volunteer spirit in the youth,” he said.
Crawford was contacted by Jane Cunningham, whose son-in-law Randall McDaniel of the Minnesota Vikings was inducted. Cunningham, a 4-H Foundation board member, was looking for a way to involve 4-H youth with the special event.
Crawford, Cunningham, club advisers Jennifer Smith and Lisa Alderman organized the recycling efforts of eight 4-H’ers and six parents throughout the party.
Crawford said they set up four recycling stations and collected about 20 bags of aluminum, glass and plastic, which were then taken to the Warmington Recycling Center. The youth also promoted recycling to Hall of Fame guests.
In addition to serving the community, the 4-H’ers learned social and people skills through greeting guests, and safety precautions when handling the recycling materials.
It was a late night for the youth, as the party lasted 9 p.m. to 2 a.m., but Crawford was impressed with the willingness of both the youth and their parents to participate in the project.
Crawford is hopeful this project will become an annual event and that the Pet Pals program can add it to their already impressive list of community service events.
Youth involved in the club first train their pets and then volunteer at nursing homes and military picnics to show the significance of the human-animal bond.
Crawford believes it’s never to early to encourage young people to get involved in community service.
“It’s a great way for youngsters to develop a love for serving others,” he said.
Crawford said research has shown that youth who participate in community service at a young age are more likely to continue volunteering throughout their lifetime.
That commitment, he said, especially in today’s challenging economic times is more important than ever.