4-H programming reaches underserved youth | TSLN.com

4-H programming reaches underserved youth

Lura Roti
for SDSU Extension/iGrow

Working with duct tape, plastic water bottles and some PVC pipe, members of the Pueblo de Dios 4-H Club assembled rockets Wednesday evening under the guidance of Chuck Martinell, SDSU Extension 4-H Program Advisor for Minnehaha County.

"It's a fun way to introduce kids to the science behind rockets," explains Martinell of the hands-on activity, which is part of the 4-H STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) curriculum.

The 4-H members Martinell worked with participate in the Pueblo de Dios Lutheran Church weekly after-school program, which caters to immigrant youth. Each Wednesday, youth are transported by vans to the church where they participate in a two-hour program developed by church staff and volunteers and evening meal. However, one Wednesday each month, church programming is replaced by a 4-H Club meeting.

Only a year old, the 4-H Club already has 60 members. "Today's 4-H offers a lot of projects and programming in the areas of STEM, food and fitness which appeals to a non-traditional, more urban audience," Martinell says.

Albeit non-traditional, this 4-H programming provides the same character and confidence-building benefits to youth today that it has provided to South Dakota's youth for more than a century. Exactly the reason Jeanette Clark, Pastor at Pueblo de Dios wanted to introduce 4-H to the community they serve. "I've already seen how being a member of this 4-H Club has provided our youth with experiences they would not otherwise have," Clark says. "They know how to run a club meeting, and now that the kids have participated in club elections in this safe and familiar environment, many will feel confident enough to take on leadership roles when other opportunities arise."

Pueblo de Dios is one of 20 youth programs in Sioux Falls that Martinell partners with to provide 4-H programming. He explains that partnerships are key to introducing Minnehaha youth to 4-H. "Due to a number of socioeconomic reasons, there is a huge population of kids who don't have the opportunity to participate in a traditional 4-H Club," says Martinell of the more than 40,000 4-H-age youth in the county. "Through partnerships we are able to bring the 4-H model to them and share its benefits while building tomorrow's leaders."

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Partnerships between schools, youth organizations and 4-H are thriving across South Dakota thanks to the efforts of SDSU Extension 4-H Youth Program Advisors like Martinell.

In Brookings County, Sonia Mack partnered with the Boys and Girls Club after school program to launch its first 4-H Club; in Roberts County, Tracey Lehrke integrated healthy living, leadership and team building skills programming and helped to found the first Tiospa Zina Tribal School 4-H Club; and in Pennington County, Tiffany Meyer made science come alive for a small group of Native American students through junk drawer robotics, videography and photography activities which she leads during bi-monthly after school STEM programming at North Rapid Middle School.

"4-H puts kids on an equal playing field where they can develop self-confidence and learn about themselves. We don't discriminate. In 4-H it doesn't matter how much your parents make or where you live," explains Meyer, a former SDSU Extension 4-H Youth Program Advisor. "I've seen students blossom through 4-H because 4-H allowed them to be themselves."

Supporting military youth

Looking for a positive social environment for her 10-year-old daughter and a fun activity to do together, Ashley Williamson volunteered to become a 4-H Club leader in the Ellsworth Air Force Base after school program held at the Base Youth Center.

"Having me there has helped her open up and make new friends," says Williamson of the 4-H cooking club that meets each Thursday afternoon.

Utilizing 4-H materials, Williamson teaches club members about nutrition as they cook together – and when they do create sugary treats, they discuss portion size. "By eating healthy and exercise I was able to lose 60 pounds after I had my second child, so this is something I'm really passionate about," Williamson says.

It didn't take long before she saw club members put what they learned during the 4-H meetings into practice. Club members decided to revamp the Youth Center's snack bar to create a healthier menu. "The snack bar used to have ice cream Fridays. The 4-H members brought up the idea of making fruit smoothies made with yogurt, fruit and vegetables instead," Williamson explains. "Many kids have no clue when it comes to healthy foods. It's satisfying to know that I planted a seed that will help these kids live healthier lives."

4-H Clubs like the one Williamson leads have became a fixture on many U.S. military bases worldwide. The partnership began about two decades ago when 4-H was recognized by the U.S. Military as a positive organization to support military families. "The idea is that because military families move every three to five years, a 4-H Club will be one constant that kids and families can look forward to participating in," explains Kathryn Reeves, SDSU Extension 4-H Science Field Specialist.

In 2003 Reeves was named South Dakota's 4-H military liaison. As part of their commitment, the U.S. Department of Defense pays for a portion of Reeves' salary through the Air Force Military Partnership Grant, Operation Military Kids, and the military camping initiative.

Along with helping develop 4-H Clubs on Ellsworth Air Force Base, Reeves is also responsible for Operation Military Kids, a program that works to garner community support for military families when a loved one is deployed. "When soldiers are deployed, they are not the only people sacrificing. The entire family is sacrificing," Reeves says.

For the last seven summers she has worked with the South Dakota National Guard and other military personnel to organize summer camps for military kids.

"It can be very isolating for many children of deployed parents who live in communities across the state. This camp provides them with a fun opportunity to spend time with other kids who understand," says Reeves who explains the camp as a hybrid of traditional 4-H camp and the military.

The STEM programming during last summer's camp for 9-11 year olds focused on stars. Reeves worked with members of the local Astronomers Society to bring out a telescope and visit with campers about the science of stars and let them practice locating constellations. "We tied in the STEM concepts with a personal development concept of looking at yourself to find the star within you. We encouraged campers to discover the positive things about themselves and think about ways they can be a strong person," Reeves says.

"This is just one of many examples of how 4-H was able to provide South Dakota youth who may not already be involved in the organization with informational programming that expanded their view of themselves, their community and their world," said Peter Nielson, SDSU Extension 4-H Youth Development Program Director.

To learn more about South Dakota 4-H, visit iGrow.org/4h. F