4-H Community Service: Impactful

Community service programs within 4-H impact both the receiver and the giver of service.

In 4-H, the third H stands for Hands -- ”I pledge my hands to larger service.” This means the hands of over six million young people around the nation are working to better their community. The impact of those numbers alone is staggering. Michigan State University Extension encourages you to take a moment to consider it--roughly six million youth completing service to their community with over 540,000 volunteers by their side. When you add the fact that 4-H has been in existence for over 100 years, the amount of impact on communities is unimaginable, and that’s not even considering country programs!

The contribution to communities varies depending on the need of the community, but some projects in my small rural community in lower Michigan include food boxes for veterans, pop top collections for funding Ronald McDonald houses, Thanksgiving Day meals for people in need, adopt-a-highway projects and many others.  Michigan 4-H community service and learning website cites these benefits for youth involved in service projects:

  • Learn the value of helping others.
  • Develop leadership, communication, organizational skills and a sense of empowerment.
  • Learn how important the connection is between subject matter and life in the community.
  • Learn how to cooperate with one another and work as a team with diverse groups of people including adults, peers and others with different backgrounds and experiences.
  • Succeed in an area different from academics, athletics or popularity.
  • Build self-esteem from the positive results of their service.
  • Develop problem-solving and decision-making skills by applying their knowledge to real-world situations.
  • Develop a sense of being responsible for their community and a sense that citizenship requires them to actively participate in their community.
  • Receive recognition for their efforts and possibly college scholarships.
  • Experience the world of work.

Besides the immense contribution to communities, 4-H community service is changing the lives of the youth who conduct the service. Lori Bowers, former 4-H member and current adult 4-H volunteer in Branch County, explains her rewarding experience with 4-H Proud Equestrian Program (PEP) which offers the  opportunity for youth with disabilities to learn to ride horses and, in Branch County, experience a day camp during their weeklong experience.

“The 4-H Proud Equestrian Program has had a profound impact on my life and the lives of my children.  I began volunteering with 4-H PEP as a 6th grader and continued throughout my school career. The time that I spent with children with disabilities was very satisfying and led me to study education in college. Not only did I settle on education, I chose to major in special education. After graduation, I got a job teaching students with learning disabilities and continue in this career today. With college, work, and starting a family, I had to take a break from volunteering with PEP. As my children got older, I was able to start volunteering again. Now, both of my kids and myself volunteer each year with our local PEP program. I love to see them both get excited as the week of PEP approaches! They both enjoy working with the students; seeing their joy in learning about and riding the horses each day. 4-H PEP has allowed my children to learn to be patient and embrace the differences in people. I don't know if either of them will choose a career working with children with disabilities, but I know that their lives have been enriched because of this experience.”

Lori’s testimony illustrates that in addition to the impact made on the community through 4-H, young people are being impacted by their service. Life plans can also be steered by their community service experience.  Also, they are learning that helping their community is a way of life and tradition of community service continues through generations. In fact, Lori is the third generation in her family giving to the community through 4-H and her children are the fourth! It’s almost unimaginable--the power and the impact of 4-H and community service projects!

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