4-H: Building friendships that last a lifetime

Michigan 4-H creates a special environment for building unique, lifelong friendships.

Lauren McKown and Makena Schultz, shortly after joining Lenawee County's Rome Blue Ribbon 4-H club.
Lauren McKown and Makena Schultz, shortly after joining Lenawee County's Rome Blue Ribbon 4-H club.

On Monday, Nov. 2, 2015, National 4-H shared a photograph on their Facebook page of two youth participants holding their goat projects with the following quote, “There is nothing on this earth more to be prized than true friendship.” This is an especially poignant thought as we begin the month of November and dedicate this time to expressing gratitude. The value of true friendships are immeasurable; in fact, they're invaluable. By definition, “invaluable” means something that is extremely useful or indispensable. Synonyms include irreplaceable, incalculable, priceless, crucial and vital. Throughout life, people meet, relationships are built and friendships grow. Sometimes friendships last forever and sometimes they’re short lived, but every time they bring a special inconceivable gift into our lives.

4-H offers a unique opportunity to build friendships. In Michigan, 4-H staff coordinate many statewide activities that offer youth (and adult) participants to build their skills in a variety of arenas, but it also creates an environment where people from all over the state can come together and meet one another! Michigan is a big state, encompassing 58,110 square miles of land – not to mention it's made up of two peninsulas separated by the Straights of Mackinac. These statewide 4-H events subsequently create a great excuse for 4-Hers to make friends from an area of Michigan they themselves aren't from (and potentially haven't ever visited).

There is the opportunity for similar friendship building at the local county 4-H level. The average size of a county in the state of Michigan is 681.2 square miles, and in some of the more densely populated counties it is quite possible many young people aren't acquainted with their peers who attend different schools. 4-H offers the chance to change that. Many 4-H clubs are project-based clubs. This means that participants from all over the county can get together to learn about a specific skill or project area. Your county may have a county photography or rabbit club that not only allows you to develop your photo or rabbit related know-how, but also allows members to meet others from various areas of the county. It's likely these project clubs meet on a regular basis, so your new friendships can grow through increased interactions with one another.

Lauren and Makena

Lauren and Makena, eight years later when they served as president and vice president of the Rome Blue Ribbon 4-H club. Lauren and Makena are still friends today; practically an additional eight years later. They keep in touch via social media and like to share articles that may be of interest or professional relevance to each other's work.

A county 4-H fair is another story. Here, 4-H participants from all over the county (who might not see each other any other time of the year) get to interact with “fair friends.” The next time you talk to a 4-Her, ask them about their fair friends. It is the type of environment created by local 4-H programs that make it an especially unique place for friendships to flourish. There is a common identity held by all youth participants – they are all in 4-H! This creates an automatic icebreaker. Meeting new people is usually followed by an immediate discussion of where they live in the county and what projects they're showcasing at the fair that year. This conversation can immediately be followed up with a physical outing, like a walk to look at each other's projects! These show-and-tell walks can be very beneficial for relationship building as youth responses to their peer’s work always seems to be framed from a supportive and encouraging perspective in 4-H. There is friendly competition, fun traditions and endless opportunities to build special memories.

When it comes to 4-H, youth often go all year without seeing one another and then meet at their fair or annual state 4-H event and interact as if they've never left. 4-H breeds a special kind of friendship – 4-H friends (and they often last a lifetime). 4-H friendships are often maintained into adulthood and are long lived, serving as person support systems, professional networks and resources, and the best excuses for trips down memory lane.

To learn more about 4-H opportunities in your county, contact your local Michigan State University Extension county office

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