Fayette County 4-H program develops ‘spark’ observed in youth | Helping the Helpers

‘It’s kind of limitless,’ 4-H Educator Jennifer Deichert says of the opportunities offered by the program

By: - December 5, 2021 6:30 am

4-H member and seventh-grader Ethan Tabaj poses with his steer, Dexter, that he showed at the Fayette County Fair this year (Uniontown Herald-Standard photo).

By Alyssa Choiniere

UNIONTOWN, Pa. — Fayette County’s 4-H programs find the “spark” in youth and help them develop those areas of interest, said 4-H Educator Jennifer Deichert.

(Capital-Star file)

“Within 4-H is that positive youth development. We’re looking at the youth and finding where is that spark, what is something they’re interested in and how do we develop that. Whether it’s raising an animal or learning how to sew a button, it’s about developing those life skills,” she said.

The program is open to youth ages 5 to 18, and offers 25 clubs with 400 members led by 100 volunteers, she said. Programs include animal science, robotics, shooting, public speaking, arts and crafts and many other activities.

Children ages 8 and up participate in competitions, while younger children experience the hands-on activities without the pressures of competing. Deichert said the shooting and robotics clubs have gone on to participate in regional and national competitions.

The youth also learn career skills such as how to run a business meeting, she said.

The program also places an emphasis on community service. Each year, the 4-H State Council partners with a non-profit for its annual service project. This year, 4-H is partnering with One Warm Coat, collecting new and gently used coats for those in need, Deichert said.

She said 4-H goes far beyond agricultural sciences and farming.

“What people mostly know 4-H for is agriculture, cooking and sewing. It’s a common misconception is that you need to live on a farm and raise animals to be a part of 4-H, and that’s not the case,” she said.

She said 4-H started in 1902 for youth as “a fun way to showcase and display what they were doing on the farm.”

“Then youth development programs broke down the barriers of limitations just to agriculture,” she said.

Today, she said, “It’s kind of limitless.”

The COVID-19 pandemic broke down the barriers of space, she said. Virtual meetings opened more doors for 4-H participants, allowing 4-H clubs in other states to communicate through their programs and connect on Zoom.

“Being able to break down the barriers of travel, transportation and geographic boundaries, we were able to present some pretty cool programs virtually,” she said.

She said a Fayette County club participated in an agricultural and educational box exchange program with a club in Oklahoma. They mailed each other a box with items that represented their hometowns, she said.

“Through the power of Zoom, we were able to virtually open our boxes at the same time,” she said.

One of the items in the box sent to Oklahoma was a Christmas ornament, representing Christmas tree production in southwestern Pennsylvania.

Fayette County youth also participated in virtual coding programs and an agricultural literacy program, where young participants listened to the story, “Tales of the Dairy Godmother.”

Deichert said they are planning to continue participating in virtual events, although the clubs and workshops are now being held in person again.

She said they are looking for new volunteers to expand their local offerings. They have received requests for programs in STEM fields, sewing and cooking clubs. She said volunteers do not need to be “experts” and emphasized that 4-H has a focus on “learning by doing.”

They are also seeking volunteers to serve as chaperones, judge speaking competitions or host a one-time workshop.

She said they are also looking for additional meeting spaces, especially in Fayette County towns outside of Uniontown so that youth across the county have convenient access to clubs.

Alyssa Choiniere is a reporter for the Uniontown Herald-Standard. Readers may email her [email protected]. Helping the Helpers is a cooperative effort between the Uniontown Herald-Standard and the Pennsylvania Capital-Star. 

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