Nationwide, as well as in southwest Missouri, 4-H is currently celebrating its 100th anniversary. Although special events have been taking place all year, the final celebration in Missouri was the "4-H Centennial Gala," Oct. 10 at the Missouri Botanical Gardens, St. Louis.

According to 4-H youth development specialist in southwest Missouri, 4-H organizers, leaders, students and alumni have many things to celebrate, including the organization's unique history.

In 1902, a large% of Americans lived on farms. Organizers started 4-H in response to young people and their need for a better agricultural education.

"The community club model of 4-H engaged youth through learning by doing. Organized outside of school, parents served as volunteer leaders partnering with educators to provide appropriate curriculum and materials. It is a model 4-H clubs still follow today," said Jerry Parker, 4-H youth development specialist headquartered in Lawrence County, University Outreach and Extension.

No one individual is credited with originating 4-H, rather it was started through collective efforts over several years. In 1902, A. B. Graham, Superintendent of Schools in Clark County, OH, organized a boys' and girls' agriculture club. In 1907, the first boys' and girls' demonstration clubs under USDA sponsorship began in Holmes County, MS.

In 1907 or 1908, the first emblem, designed by O.H. Benson, was used nationally. It was a three-leaf clover representing head, heart and hands. In 1911, Benson suggested a fourth leaf and "H" be added. Originally, the fourth "H" was to stand for hustle, but it was later changed to health.

By 1912, over 96,000 youth were enrolled in 4-H club work nationwide. In 1914, the passage of the Smith-Lever Act established the Cooperative Extension Service (of which 4-H is now a part) and in 1918, the first use of the term "4-H Club" appeared in a federal document.

Today, 6.8 million youth are involved in 4-H. There are an estimated 60 million 4-H alumni with programs in all 3,150 counties, U.S. territories, and the District of Columbia. Nearly 35% of 4-H participants live in urban communities and 30% represent minority, racial, cultural, and ethnic populations.

"Today, 4-H'ers are involved in experiential learning in projects that are important and of interest to them. Today's project areas range from aerospace to zoology," said John Ezell, 4-H youth development specialist headquartered in Jasper County, University Outreach and Extension.

In Missouri, the first 4-H Club was organized in Iron County around 1914.

"There are 2,151 4-H club members in southwest Missouri plus 6,395 participants in 4-H school enrichment programs and other 4-H programs. Overall, we have 9,497 youth participating with 4-H in southwest Missouri plus 925 4-H adult volunteers," said Byron Morrison, 4-H youth development specialist, University Outreach and Extension, headquartered in Greene County.

Missouri 4-H Youth Development Programs are headquartered on the University of Missouri campus as part of University Outreach and Extension efforts. Faculty from the University of Missouri provides program leadership, training, resources and technical assistance to 4-H Youth Specialists and Youth Education Assistants across the state.

In 2001-02, Missouri 4-H Youth Development Programs reached young people in every county of the state. Nearly 17% (203,099) of Missouri youths between the ages of 5 and 19 participated in a 4-H educational program. About 10% of these youth participated in the 4-H club program. The balance took part in other programs such as 4-H school enrichment (short-term educational experiences that enhance learning in the classroom), special interest programs, camps, or childcare programs.

"4-H youth development programs help children and teens become competent, caring, contributing and capable. 4-H programs address the broader developmental needs of youth, in contrast to single issue or deficit-based models that focus solely on youth problems. And, by collaborating with a diverse range of agencies, organizations and partners, 4-H programs multiply and expand public and private resources available to meet the needs of Missouri's youth," said Jo Turner, 4-H director for all of Missouri, University Outreach and Extension.

Wherever you live, there is a 4-H youth development program. To learn more about 4-H--the world's largest youth-serving organization--and how to get involved locally go online to http://mo4h.missouri.edu or visit your local University Outreach and Extension Center.

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