4-H programs allow for unique opportunities

4-H offers opportunities for youth to get out of their typical environment and explore professions and careers they might not have considered or were not “conveniently” exposed to.

It is not uncommon to hear that world class athletes or professionals got their start by growing up with the game. It’s not surprising that they spent hours at their craft, or came from an area of town in which the scene, sport or the profession was popular. For example, an Olympic skier living at the base of a mountain, a hockey player growing up near frozen ponds of the north or a surfing champion hailing from the Hawaiian Islands. Others may have lived just around the corner from a field or a court where they spent hours and hours and took hundreds of shots. We hear of musicians who would sneak in the back of clubs to play guitar with the bands or whose parents were in the music business. These kids grew up around stages and the business.

Finding that “diamond” outside of the typical environment can be inspirational. Think Billy Elliot coming from a blue collar mining town to become a star in ballet. Or Shani Davis, who grew up on the streets of Chicago and became an Olympic gold medal speed skater. Tim Duncan, who was an Olympic hopeful in swimming, wound up becoming an NBA basketball All-Star after a hurricane destroyed his local pool. Out-of-the-blue opportunities have allowed these diamonds to shine.

Entrepreneurs have also come from unlikely places. With few opportunities, they have made names for themselves by seizing an opportunity and persistence to fulfill their goal. Examples include Sam Walton, J.K. Rowling, Oprah Winfrey and Ursula Burns, who was raised in the projects and became the first African-American woman to head a Fortune 500 Company. From disadvantaged to success, or rags to riches, these are all stories of opportunity, an opportunity backed by hard work.

It is the great dedication and, I am sure, the encouragement and guidance of a mentor that have enabled all of these highly successful achievers, many from humble backgrounds, reach the pinnacle of their careers. But it was also the exposure (convenient or hard-won) to the profession and the opportunities, that were laid before them or they struggled to acquire, which made “all the difference in the world” in their outcomes.

Are these geographic, out-of-the-blue rags to riches opportunities available for all youth? They can be.

4-H offers opportunities for youth to get out of their typical environment and explore professions and careers they might not have considered or were not “conveniently” exposed to. 4-H has programs that allow inner city youth to learn about livestock, horses and the farm to table processes. Workshops provide exploration into ROVs, veterinary science and leadership. There are programs on urban gardening, shooting sports and global and cultural education. 4-H also offers camps and multiple day events like Exploration Days, which is held on campus and exposes youth to over 100 learning sessions.

Exposure to many options early on is so beneficial for youth. Youth can gain knowledge of other professions and possible career paths and have the opportunity to test their talents and skills in a low risk environment. They could find a passion or drive in themselves they were unaware of. They may just find out that they are a diamond, just in the wrong rough. Whether in a city or rural area, the opportunities are there to be explored through 4-H programs.

For more information on these programs and gaining experiences, contact your local 4-H representative or visit the Michigan 4-H website or Michigan State University Extension

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