As the motto suggests, participants in McKean County’s 4-H programs strive “To make the Best Better.”
That goal for improvement is evident this week, as local 4-Hers join clubs across the state in celebration of PA 4-H Club Week. 4-H clubs in Pennsylvania are supervised by the Pennsylvania State University 4-H Youth Division of Cooperative Extension.
To celebrate, clubs throughout the county have decorated storefront windows with displays promoting 4-H.
“Displays can be found all over the county from Kane, Bradford, Smethport, Eldred and Port Allegany,” said Samantha Sessamen, the 4-H youth development extension educator for the Penn State Extension office in McKean County. “Members are also encouraged to show their 4-H Spirit by wearing a 4-H shirt (or our green and white colors) throughout the week as well.”
The four H’s in the organization’s name stand for head, heart, hands and health, and its slogan, “Learn by Doing,” tells a great deal about members’ experiences.
“The goal of the 4-H Program is to provide youth with the skills to be outstanding citizens by developing leadership, responsibility and life skills through positive youth development,” said Sessamen. “4-H empowers young people to lead for a lifetime and are grounded in the belief that kids learn best by doing. Kids can choose to focus on one project or a variety throughout their 4-H experience,” she said.
McKean County alone has 12 active 4-H clubs, with names as original as their members: Clover Patch Kids 4-H Club, Country Kids 4-H Club, County Line 4-H Club, Kane Afterschool Baking 4-H Club, Kane Livestock 4-H Club, Krazy Kritters & More 4-H Club, McKean Co. 4-H Teen Council, McKean Co. Wranglers 4-H Club, MJ Ryan Funny Bunnies 4-H Club, New Idea Livestock 4-H Club, Port Allegany Lucky Horseshoes 4-H Club and Rockin’ Ranchers 4-H Club.
Pennsylvania 4-H is open to youth ages 8-18. There is a Cloverbud program for youth ages 5-7, too, Sessamen said.
But it’s not just young people who are important to the program: Many adults give their time and knowledge to mentor young people through 4-H.
Sessamen explained, “Now, a big part of our program is through our volunteers; anyone who has a skill they want to share with youth are able to apply to become a volunteer through the Penn State Extension Office of McKean County located in Smethport. We cannot have a successful 4-H program without our passionate volunteers willing to help teach these kids life skills through 4-H projects!”
There is much more to 4-H than many people realize.
“4-H is not just cows, plows, and sows,” said Sessamen. “It is a common misconception that youth need to have an animal in order to be involved in 4-H. We offer projects in over 100 areas ranging from STEM, Agriculture, Healthy Living and Civic Engagement.”
Youths who are not interested in a traditional 4-H club can take part in other ways.
In addition to the 4-H clubs, which typically meet once a month, or between six and 12 times a year, 4-H offers school enrichment programs such as Embryology and Meet the Plants, after-school programs, and camps such as day camps and residential camps.
“During Summer 2019, we are planning to hold our annual Outdoor 4-H Day Camp in Smethport, a Residential Camp — Northwinds Junior 4-H Camp — at Denton Hill State Park, various Library 4-H Programs and other Day Camp opportunities for youth ages 5-18,” she said.
Each of the clubs works on different activities geared toward its members.
For the Teen Council 4-H Club, a big project members are working on now is planning their first countywide officer training to be held April 13 at the McKean County 911 Center in Smethport. Sessamen said the teens will cover topics of parliamentary procedure, leadership opportunities, club officer roles and group games activities.
4-H members across the county spend time doing volunteer work, too.
Sessamen said, “All of our clubs do give back locally by doing community service activities throughout the year; popular activities include volunteering at Sena Kean Manor, making fleece blankets for senior centers, volunteering at the SPCA, highway cleanups, and much more.”
Residents are invited to share any ideas for community services opportunities for youth with the 4-H educator, who will share the news to local 4-H clubs.
The 4-H program is not just for youths in Pennsylvania but across the nation, too.
In fact, “4-H is located in every county throughout the United States,” Sessamen said.
Local participants have chances to interact with 4-Hers across Pennsylvania and the United States.
Sessamen explained, “Our equine and dairy members have the opportunity to compete to make it to a district and state competition. There is a statewide contest in forestry field day, shooting sports, public speaking, skillathons, tractor driving, clothing and textiles, food challenge, and much more.”
Non-competitive events outside McKean County include PA 4-H Capital Days in Harrisburg, the State Leadership Conference in State College and the National 4-H Congress in Washington, D.C.
Anyone who wants to get involved with 4-H — as a member or a volunteer — can contact Sessamen at the Penn State Extension Office in Smethport at 887-5613 ext. 207 or email@example.com. People can also contact the office if there is specific 4-H program they would like to see take place locally.
More information on McKean County 4-H can be found at the organization’s website, https://extension.psu.edu/programs/4-h/counties/mckean/, or Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/mckeancounty4h/