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Rabbits and Robots Lead to a Bright Future for Youth

About six years ago, a young Ana Clemmer of Howard County wanted a rabbit. But her parents wouldn’t let her have one until she learned how to care for the animal. “I found out about 4-H at the Howard County Fair in 2014 when I walked into the activities hall and the rabbit barn for the first time,” says Ana. “I learned about different crafts, science projects and animal projects 4-Hers worked on for the fair. The volunteers were welcoming and told me all about how great 4-H is. Add getting a rabbit on top of all of that, it looked like a pretty good deal!”

That was just the beginning of Ana’s involvement with 4-H. Since then, she has discovered that this century-old organization with 6 million participants worldwide offered even more. What started as a club focused on farm families now welcomes youth from any background. It provides an opportunity to explore STEM topics, animal care, healthy living and more through activities such as cooking classes, after school programs, camps and even international experiences.

“Through 4-H, I have become a more well-rounded person and have developed positive habits and qualities, such as self-determination, teamwork though livestock co-ops, working toward a goal with good time management, and perseverance,” Ana says. “I have learned about career opportunities across many fields, giving me a broader perspective for my future.”

Ana adds that 4-H is also a lot of fun. “Learning about horticulture led me to my house plant hobby, which continues to expand!”

A 4-H participant for 10 years in Frederick County, Madison Spurrier agrees. “4-H has given me so many skills that can help me in the future while doing exciting projects with friends. I have gained public speaking and professional skills, and learned to work as a team,” she says. “Working with my animal projects has taught me responsibility and record keeping. I want to be an elementary school teacher and working with kids while in this program is what inspired me to teach.”

Madison was part of her county’s royalty program and crowned the 2018-2019 Frederick County 4-H Queen. “This was an amazing opportunity because I not only had the chance to meet elected officials, like Governor Hogan, and share agriculture’s message, I also had a chance to connect more with younger 4-H members across the county,” she says.

Madison’s brother Zachary says that 4-H introduced him to the world of robotics where his Robo Rangers club designed and built robots, then traveled to competitions with their creations. “This has influenced me to become a robotics engineer,” he says. “I probably would not be as passionate about engineering if it had not been for 4-H.”

Open to youth ages five to 18, the Maryland 4-H Youth Development Program is led by county extension specialists and made possible through the efforts of thousands of volunteers.

Howard County 4-H Dairy Club leader and volunteer Caitlin Patrick says that it’s an incredibly valuable organization for its youth members. “They are able to make friends, grow their leadership and teamwork skills, and see a project from start to finish,” she says. “And, it teaches them indispensable life lessons.”

For example, youth members have the opportunity to hold an officer position within their individual club. Caitlin says that this encourages them to take ownership of the club and its activities. Additionally, it offers many skill-building activities and competitions, such as public speaking and livestock and dairy judging. She believes that the skills possessed through the participation in these activities and competitions transfer well into life beyond 4-H.  

The organization also affects Maryland’s farming economy by growing future leaders familiar with food and farming issues. “4-H helps cultivate kids who are passionate about agriculture, who then turn into adults who are passionate about agriculture,” Caitlin says.

Madison recommends the organization to everyone. “You do not have to live on a farm to have a 4-H project — it offers so much more,” she says. “Some other projects include cooking, photography, dogs and bicycling. 4-H helps you gain professional skills and you get to make so many new friends!”

Get in on the fun! Contact your local county extension office to join or volunteer!

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