Horse projects are one of the highlights of 4-H for Hattie Erickson of Britton, S.D. Photo by Steen Photography
By Heidi Marttila-Losure
Hattie Erickson has been busy these past few weeks: 4-H Achievement Days are this weekend in Marshall County, and the Britton-Hecla High School senior has projects aplenty to show.
“I mostly now do the horse project area—I have three horses I take care of,” Erickson said.
Plus projects in beef … small animals … visual arts … public speaking … you get the idea.
Erickson has been involved in 4-H since she was an 8-year-old following in her older sister’s footsteps. Her mother, Michelle Erickson, who was a 4-H leader at the time, said Hattie started 4-H as an outlet for her interest in crafts.
“Once we got involved, we discovered 4-H had so many things to offer and try,” Michelle said. “As a parent, I saw it was making a well-rounded child to be able to participate in all the things 4-H offered.”
Hattie said 4-H has given her skills in organization, leadership and public speaking. Her mom added that public speaking is a skill that 4-H really enhances—each 4-Her has to give presentations on their projects to their local chapter and perhaps also to others on the county level. That practice makes confident speakers.
“You can tell who those 4-Hers are because as they grow up and have to stand up in front of others, they can do it,” Michelle said.
More support for youth
The kind of learning experiences that 4-H provides have been given a boost through the reorganization of SDSU Extension. Before, some Extension agents covered a variety of needs in the county, and 4-H may not have received as much attention. Now, 4-Hers have dedicated 4-H youth program advisors.
“We notably increased support to 4-H and youth,” said Barry Dunn, director of SDSU Extension, in announcing the changes last October.
Not every county has its own 4-H youth advisor, however. Since part of the funding for the 4-H program comes from the county level, county commissioners had to decide in 2011 whether they needed or could fund a position for their county alone. Many counties opted to form partnerships with other counties.
Marshall and Day counties formed such a partnership, which is going well on many fronts.
Jennifer Ringkob, who started as the 4-Y youth program advisor for the two counties early this year, said both sets of commissioners have been helpful and supportive.
Karen Mikkelson, who is was an administrative assistant for Marshall County Extension for 38 years and now continues in the 4-H office, said they have also seen a marked increase in 4-H participation since the 4-H youth program advisor position was created: from 48 kids last year to 76 this year.
One reason for the increase is that they were able to do programming for students on days when teachers were doing an in-service, which introduced non-4-H-ers and their families to what the program has to offer.
“It opened people’s eyes to what 4-H is,” she said. “Having a full-time person here specifically for youth and 4-H opened up a lot more opportunities.”
Changing with the times
Kim McGraw, who serves as the 4-H youth program advisor for Clark and Spink counties, said programming for youth has changed—it’s not just about agriculture anymore.
“The youth want know more about computer-focused programs and are less interested in the more traditional programs like sewing, for example,” McGraw said. “Some newer programs that are starting to be introduced are wind energy, science-related programs and engineering-type programs.”
She added that the way 4-H distributes information has changed along with the rest of Extension. In addition to utilizing iGrow, 4-H also uses Facebook to get the word out.
Ringkob said young people today have less time for 4-H, but the program is just as good for kids as it ever was.
“4-H is a time commitment, and today there are more kids that have jobs making car payments than when I was that age. There are more choices kids have to make,” Ringkob said. “But the quality of exhibits and kids and parents involved is still top-notch. That’s what the 4-H program stands for.”
For Hattie Erickson, one of those busy 4-Hers, her final year as a 4-Her has begun. She’s planning on going to college next year and then starting a horse business someday, where her 4-H-fostered skills in horsemanship, organization and public speaking are likely to come in handy.