4-H Clubs: Helping to build America’s youth

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  • Rebecca Byrne holds a bunny during the 4-H presentation Monday night to the West Milford Time Bank members.

  • Celeste Hampton, the group's leader, is seen with members of her club Monday night.

“Our kids develop knowledge, attitude and skills to become competent and caring citizens of the world. 4-H encourages responsibility and community awareness. We are building leaders for the next generation.”
Celeste Hampton, 4-H leader

By Ginny Raue

— Perhaps parallel with today’s youth teaching their elders about ever-expanding technology, in the late 1800s researchers found that while adults in agricultural areas resisted new ideas developed at the university level, young people were open- minded and eager to experiment. They then took their new-found knowledge back to their communities.

Over 100 years ago, 4-H programs arose; community youth clubs within agricultural areas, funneling ideas from generation to generation. Today 4-H is the largest youth development organization in the United States, reaching rural, urban and suburban communities. Club interests no longer lie just with agricultural issues; they are as diverse as climate change, global food security, animal science, rocketry and robotics.

The Velveteen Rabbit and Farm Club

In West Milford there is an active 4-H club, the “Velveteen Rabbit and Farm Club,” although that name may be misleading. Under the leadership of Celeste Hampton, this 4-H program works in conjunction with Rutgers University Cooperative Extension and the United States Department of Agriculture. According to Hampton, anything studied at Rutgers can be a club focus.

“Our club is not confined to rabbit activities. Every club has to have a main base of operation, and then independently we can study anything under the Rutgers umbrella,” Hampton said.

The Rutgers Web site states, “4-H programming focuses on three priority areas called mission mandates. They are science, engineering and technology; healthy living; and citizenship.”

“Our kids develop knowledge, attitude and skills to become competent and caring citizens of the world. 4-H encourages responsibility and community awareness. We are building leaders for the next generation,” Hampton said.

Diverse interests explored

Along with the rabbits, members of Hampton’s club also have interests in engineering, science, chickens, horses, photography and technology, to name a few.

The club members choose a project, how to make maple syrup or the history of the tractor, for example, and keep a running journal. The journal is later submitted for evaluation and is often judged by representatives from Rutgers. Last year, two Passaic County 4-H representatives came from the Velveteens.

“Rutgers encourages kids to do 4-H work. My ninth graders just got a package from Rutgers with information on financial aid and scholarships,” Hampton said.

Right now Velveteen members are working on building a farm on Hampton’s property, just off Macopin Road.

“The kids did the land clearing, they turned the trees to logs and had a bon fire, learning about fire safety, too,” Hampton said.

They built a bunny garden, growing food for the rabbits, and learned how to “mow your grass by rabbit,” using portable corals.

“You put the mom and babies in the coral and move it every few hours as the rabbits eat the area clean,” Hampton said. A good lesson in land management.

One young lady has chosen an engineering project, designing a chicken coop, and this spring she’ll implement her plan then turn in her documentation at the Autumn Lights Festival, which counts as a 4-H county fair.

Hampton is always delighted to have new members sign up and tries to accommodate the interest of every child. She also encourages adults to start up new 4-H clubs.

“If you want to start a new club, it could be based on what your child may be interested in; a flower club, a music club, a goat club. You can use 4-H as a launch pad for any number of projects and you will be connecting the kids to Rutgers where they will learn the science and technology behind whatever the club focuses on,” she said.

Learn by doing

The 4-H club slogan is “Learn by doing.” At each meeting, following the Pledge of Allegiance, the members recite the 4-H Club Pledge: “I pledge my head to clearer thinking, my heart to greater loyalty, my hands to larger service and my health to better living for my club, my community, my country and my world.”

The 4-H program is open to youth from kindergarten age to one year out of high school. The Velveteen club, currently with about 12 members, meets at the United Methodist Church on La Rue Road in West Milford on the first and third Monday of the month.

For further information on the 4-H program, contact Marycarmen Kunicki, County Extension Dept., 4-H program, at 973-684-4786.

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