Rapidly evolving from its traditionally agricultural roots, the 7 million young people in more than 50 countries who participate in 4-H – including more than 3.5 million girls and young women – are now likely to be just as attuned to Mark Zuckerberg as Arnold Ziffel.
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If you’ve ever wandered through the 4-H pavilions back behind the race track’s second turn at the county fair, you’ve seen the attention to detail, dedication and creative innovation that 4-H’ers display in their projects.
For an aftermarket business, these youngsters are developing attributes that will make them desirable employees at your operation – especially if they are able to stay down on the farm, so-to-speak, rather than leaving town to seek jobs in the big city upon reaching adulthood.
Sustaining the principles of “head, heart, hands and health,” 4-H traces its roots back to Ohio’s Clark County, where Springfield Township Schools Superintendent Albert Belmont Graham established an after-school Youth Club in 1902.
Operated under the purview of the Cooperative Extension System, a partnership of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), 4-H currently consists of more than 100 land-grant universities and 3,000 local offices across the nation.
At least 10 state governors and more than 50 members of Congress are 4-H alumni; former President Jimmy Carter and the late Harold Arthur “Red” Poling, who served as chairman, president and CEO of the Ford Motor Co., also spent their formative years participating in 4-H’s multitude of educational programs.
National 4-H Council President and CEO Jennifer Sirangelo is the first woman to lead the organization. In 2016, she launched the “Grow True Leaders” rebranding initiative to promote the diversity of 4-H programs and participants with the goal of boosting the membership to 10 million young people by 2025.
Presenting cutting-edge education involving science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) skills is a concurrent point of emphasis aimed at preparing the membership for future careers in advanced fields such as manufacturing-plant robotics and other innovative developments applicable to the automotive industry.
Sirangelo recently responded to a series of questions asked by Aftermarket Business World:
Q: 4-H is traditionally associated with agricultural activities; how did the STEM program become a 4-H endeavor?
A: 4-H was founded with youth empowerment at its core. In the beginning, programming focused on agriculture, with youth leading in introducing new technologies to the adults who were reluctant to embrace something new. Fast-forward 100 years, and 4-H is still rooted in youth empowerment with youth leading positive solutions for the diverse issues our country faces today. Now, 4-H has evolved into an organization that has global reach and teaches kids essential life skills that empower them for life today and for all kinds of careers tomorrow.