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Building Young Potential Throughout Pennsylvania

We've all heard the adage "today's youth are the key to the future of our nation." Yet children from all walks of life face an increasing number of obstacles in reaching their potential.
Angie and K. C. Beshore, 4-H members, York County

Angie and K. C. Beshore, 4-H members, York County

"It's learning responsibility and how to do new things, having fun and working with other kids. 4-H is great!"

In our fast-paced, high-tech society, children need adequate opportunities to cultivate the skills that are essential to making positive decisions and living healthy, productive lives in an increasingly complex world.

Penn State Cooperative Extension 4-H/youth development programs provide these opportunities. These programs help young people enhance their personal development; increase their ability to acquire, analyze and use information; and improve their communication, problem-solving and decision-making skills. Through interactive learning, young people increase their confidence, civic and personal responsibility and sensitivity to individual differences. Throughout the state, nearly 167,000 young people are served by one or more of these programs. About two-thirds live in our rural areas, towns and small cities; one-third come from large cities and suburbs.

The Payoff

Enhancing science literacy

Science and technology programs provide opportunities to better understand and employ scientific concepts, become adept at using new technologies, and gain a broader understanding of our complex food and fiber systems. Statewide, nearly 100,000 young people improve these skills by raising animals or plants and participating in other programs designed to enhance knowledge in biology, technology and engineering. About half participate through school enrichment programs in embryology provided by teachers and extension staff and their trained volunteers. Another 16,000 young people participate in programs in waste management; environmental stewardship; or forestry, wildlife and fisheries science. In 1998, the Pennsylvania 4-H Wildlife Habitat Team won honors at the National Habitat Evaluation Contest, with members tying for first place in the rural management and urban wildlife plan events. Thousands of 4-H members take advantage of these types of opportunities to share their new knowledge at local, state and national meetings and competitions.

Working toward healthy lifestyles

A 1995 survey by the Pennsylvania Department of Education found 19.3 percent of 9th graders and 26.3 percent of 12th graders smoke daily, making nicotine the most prevalent drug addiction among young people. Through a collaborative program funded by the Pennsylvania Department of Health, Penn State Cooperative Extension has developed community coalitions to address youth tobacco issues in 25 of Pennsylvania's counties, and that number is growing. These programs directly involve youth. One coalition conducted a survey of public opinion about a regional mall going smoke-free. The youth then took the leadership role in presenting the findings to mall management and were successful in getting the mall to ban smoking. Young people in another coalition presented petitions to public officials to have a regional stadium become smoke-free. They also were successful. Statewide, almost 20,000 Pennsylvania 4-H members participate in other health-related programs in foods and nutrition, physical health and safety. In addition, nearly 9,000 are involved in consumer and family science programs such as child care and development, clothing and textiles, consumer education and family life education. These programs provide a basis for successful self-management and practical, hands-on experience in essential living skills.

Reaching educational potential

The USDA-funded Children, Youth and Families At Risk (CYFAR) program is specifically targeted to improve the scholastic success of young people at risk of falling behind their peers. Funding from the CYFAR grant and the College of Agricultural Sciences supports programming in Clearfield, Jefferson and Montour counties. A program in Mercer County also is being developed. In a Jefferson County CYFAR program, 26 of the 27 participants were not handing in school homework. Upon completion of the program, 56 percent of these students were turning in their work. Ten students in the program with reading deficiencies worked one-on-one with volunteers, with 70 percent increasing their vocabulary by at least 50 words. One child's grades improved from D's to A's. In another program, 60 percent of the participants improved their grades from D's or lower to C's or better, and two of these young people received high honors.

Building strong leaders

Across Pennsylvania, nearly 40,000 young people participate in programs specifically geared to improve communication, career development and leadership skills and enhance civic participation. Young people then share these skills in their communities by developing school and public exhibits and presentations, taking leadership roles in 4-H and civic clubs and getting involved with local media. Citizenship skills are enhanced by meeting with legislators at the local, state, national and international levels through events such as Capital Days, an annual event held in Harrisburg; and Citizenship, Washington Focus, a program that brings 4-H members to the nation's capital to meet with congressional leaders. In addition, each year approximately 100 select 4-H teens participate in advanced leadership programs at the 4-H Ambassador Training Conference at Penn State.

Young voices

In York County, 150 4-H members representing 11 clubs shared how 4-H has helped them. Following are just some of their responses: "I learned how to think through and solve problems." "It helped me to make right decisions and steer clear of societal problems." "It increased my self-esteem." "I learned how to use my abilities to help the community." "I learned how to eat and exercise to be healthy." "I learned how to react in different situations and manage stress." "We work together as a team."

4-H/Youth Development Programs are provided by the College of Agricultural Sciences through Penn State Cooperative Extension. For more information, contact Dr. Blannie Bowen at (814) 863-7850.