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September 11, 2012

Area 4-H groups to celebrate organization's 100th year

MEADVILLE — While the 4-H symbol is the four-leaf clover, it also could be a circle for some of its members.

A nationwide and worldwide educational program for children ages 8 to 18, 4-H emphasizes “learn by doing.”

4-H marks 100 years in Pennsylvania this year and the Crawford County 4-H is holding a centennial celebration Sept. 29 for both past and present members, leaders, volunteers, family members and all those influenced by the local 4-H program.

Records on the exact start of 4-H in Crawford County have been lost, but 4-H’s origins in Crawford County date back at least to the mid-1940s.

4-H offers more than 150 types of projects including things like gardening, sewing, pet care, rocketry, insects, careers, wildlife, raising large animals, cooking, creating Web sites, geographic information systems, baby-sitting and more. 4-H projects involve hands-on learning, setting and achieving goals and evaluating one’s progress.

The goals of a 4-H program are increasing a member’s knowledge in a variety of project areas while teaching life-skills such as decision-making, public speaking and leadership, according to Paula Lucas, an educator with the Crawford County office of the Penn State Extension Service who oversees the 4-H program.

Those goals are accomplished by having members communicate in a group and work cooperatively while gaining experience preparing, designing, and evaluating their projects.

“It’s what led me to Penn State and to study agricultural science,” said Lucas, who while growing up in Crawford County, was a 4-H member in three different clubs — Saegertown Sheep and Swine, Fabulous Farmers and Fountainhouse Stitchers.

“Many of the friends I made in 4-H, I work with now,” said Lucas. “Many are on our advisory board. It’s good to see it go full circle.”

The 4-H bug runs deep in her family as her sisters and parents also were 4-H members. Lucas’ own 5-year-old son is on the 4-H path as well, being a member of a 4-H Pee Wee club.

Brenda Schmidt, who is executive director of the Crawford County Solid Waste Authority, has been a 4-H leader for the past nine years. She, too, was a member of 4-H herself for eight years.

“It’s just a great program,” said Schmidt. “You learn a lot of social skills.”

Schmidt was part of Muzzle Nuzzlers, a horse 4-H club, as a child learning how to care, groom and show a horse.

“You experience responsibility,” she said. “You learn things like public speaking. For kids, it’s the first time they get their feet wet public speaking.”

It’s the love of the 4-H experience that draws people like Schmidt as adult into the role of a volunteer club leader.

“The kids have a lot of enthusiasm to try new things and really enjoy it,” said Schmidt.

That, in turn, rubs off on the adults, said Schmidt, who leads Path Finders, a market hog club, meaning it teaches members how to raise hogs to be sold at market.

“When I got involved as a leader, all I could tell you about a hog was it had four legs, a curly tail and tasted good,” Schmidt said with a laugh. “You don’t have to be an expert, but just have to be willing to learn.”

Both potential 4-H members and leaders can benefit from the experience, according to Lucas.

“If you have an interest we can match you up with a club,” said Lucas. “We have family living and livestock clubs, but also ones like photography and fishing to dogs and rabbits.”

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