Since its origin in the early 20th century, 4-H has offered important lessons in leadership, responsibility and service through hands-on activities designed to help young people reach their personal potential.
The youth development program started as a way to connect new agricultural technologies and higher education with country life by engaging children. Teaching children ages 5 to 19 skills from raising livestock to photography to building robots, the program has evolved and grown with the changing times and continues to provide valuable opportunities for youth from all backgrounds.
In Arizona, 4-H has been going strong for 100 years, and has reached millions of children since it began in 1913 under the direction of the University of Arizona.
"Four-H is part of the Cooperative Extension Service, created by Congress to be the outreach arm of the land-grant university," explained Kirk Astroth, director of the Arizona 4-H Youth Development program. "Every state's land-grant university runs that state's 4-H program. Our program reaches 115,000 kids per year across the state."
"The land grant was not only given land to be able to create a university," Astroth said. "It has a specific mission and duty to provide education to all the people of the state regardless of where they live."
"Four-H is housed at the University and we say 4-H is your first class from the University of Arizona," Astroth said. "We always say the whole state is our campus."
The four H's of the youth development program stand for head, heart, hands and health. Members pledge their head to greater service, heart to greater loyalty, hands to larger service and health for better living.
Many 4-H members go on to become key state leaders, Astroth added, and 4-H livestock sales at county fairs alone generate $4 million each year.
"The mission of 4-H is to develop the next generation of leaders, scientists and innovators who are going to help this country solve problems that we don’t even know exist yet," Astroth said.
"Arizona would not be the kind of livable place it is today without the influence of 4-H; 4-H projects create income and jobs and develop lifelong skills in members that help them become productive, contributing adults."
"The larger goal is to teach things like decision-making, problem-solving and responsibility," Astroth said, "things that are going to serve these kids well through their whole lives."
"My own research on 4-H clubs shows that youth who are involved in 4-H for more than two years are more likely to get good grades in school, less likely to be involved in drugs or alcohol, more likely to give back to their communities and less likely to skip school."
Hundreds are expected to gather Saturday to celebrate a century of 4-H in Arizona during theArizona 4-H Centennial Celebration in Maricopa, Ariz. The barbecue will be held from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. at the UA's Maricopa Agricultural Center, 37860 W. Smith Enke Road.
The event will feature activities for kids and adults, including hayrides, barnyard Olympics, a silent auction and a recognition ceremony for Hall of Fame inductees presided over by Keith Bee, Justice of the Peace for Pima County and former 4-H Congress Delegate. Several members of the Arizona State Legislature also are expected to attend.
Saturday's event will include tractor rides, farm activities and a corn-grinding machine powered by a bicycle, so kids can grind their own corn and make corn tortillas. "We're also going to have a water quality trailer there so people learn something about water in the desert," Astroth said.
All the event participants will gather to form the pattern of a four-leafed clover, the national symbol of 4-H, with each leaf representing one of the four H's. A photograph taken from a lift will commemorate the moment and the commitment to education and youth development by the UA and 4-H participants since the founding of the state's 4-H program.