4-H Growing in Urban Communities

4-H members. Photo: OSU Extension

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Whether it be hatching chicks in the classroom to learn about the animal’s life cycle, building rockets out of 2-liter soda bottles to learn about Newton’s Laws of Motion, or taking the EcoBot Challenge turning toothbrushes into robots to clean up fake oil spills, urban 4-H programs are continuing to find new ways to increase their offerings for city kids.

“Four-H isn’t just plows and cows,” said Beth Boomershine, an Ohio State University Extension educator for 4-H Youth Development. The College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences at The Ohio State University runs Ohio 4-H through its outreach arm, OSU Extension.

The organization, which stresses Head, Heart, Hands and Health, is dedicated to supporting and developing all youth — rural, suburban and urban, said Boomershine, who is based in the Franklin County office of OSU Extension.

“Our mission is to create positive environments for diverse youth to reach their fullest potential as capable, caring and contributing citizens,” she said. “While 4-H has always had a strong presence in rural areas, it also has a large and growing presence with youth in Ohio’s largest cities, and we are continuing to work to expand our programs and services to more youth in the city.

“We have always been about building youth leadership and citizenship, and we offer all kinds of projects that youth can be part of. If we are going to stay a vibrant organization, we need to serve all of our youth.”

Ohio 4-H has clubs, camps, and school enrichment and other special interest programs in the larger urban areas throughout the state, including Columbus, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Dayton and Akron, said Julie Fox, associate chair of OSU Extension in the City and OSU Extension’s central region director.

Some examples include:

  • Real Money, Real World: This program offers an active, hands-on experience that gives young people the opportunity to make lifestyle and budget choices similar to those they will make as adults. In Franklin County, 2,200 youth participated in the program last year.
  • 4-H Metropark Partnerships: Youth Outdoors, a partnership with Cleveland Metroparks, provided leadership for 532 outdoor adventure experiences for 31 urban youth groups in Cleveland. Some 10,000 youth and adults participated in outings and special events, and 696 youth were engaged in ongoing clubs. Adventure Central, a partnership with Dayton MetroParks, is an education center for youth ages 5-18 to participate in after-school programs, activity nights, day and overnight camps, and parent and family programs. Participants spend time connecting with nature in a positive youth development context for the intended outcome of creating caring, capable and contributing citizens.
  • 4-H Agri-Science in the City: Provided by OSU Extension, the program introduces a new generation of students to the world of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education. Agriculturally based examples are used to teach science to elementary students in a hands-on way in the classroom. Students gain a broader understanding of where their food comes from, and that food and agriculture provide a wide array of career opportunities. Last year, in Cincinnati alone, more than 1,600 students participated in the program.
  • School Enrichment Programs: These programs support learning in the classroom with 4-H hands-on learning experiences. For example, in Akron and surrounding Summit County, some 2,000 students participated in 4-H through STEM-based school enrichment programs.
  • 4-H CARTEENS: This traffic safety education program for first-time juvenile traffic offenders is offered in many areas, including Butler County, where 555 teens accompanied by a parent or guardian attended one of 40 programs last year, and where 21 teen volunteers gained leadership experience by contributing over 1,848 hours serving as the program’s planners and facilitators. The program is a partnership between OSU Extension, county juvenile courts and the Ohio State Highway Patrol.

“About 50 percent of Ohio’s population is in 10 of our 88 counties,” Fox said. “To better serve youth in those cities, we’re looking at programs that have worked in other parts of Ohio and in other parts of the U.S. so that all youth can benefit from the principles of 4-H.”

To that end, OSU Extension faculty and staff, including Boomershine, are participating in the North Central Extension Region Urban 4-H Retreat and the National Urban Extension Conference to discuss urban programming, personnel and partnerships, “so that we can be more locally relevant, more responsive statewide and recognized nationally,” Fox said.

“We’re also looking at first-generation 4-H models so that the program can reach people who aren’t yet familiar with 4-H,” Fox said. “As we introduce more youth and their families to 4-H, we want to do that in ways that work for them in the city. 

“Four-H may be their first experience with The Ohio State University, and we want them to have positive experiences.”

While 4-H youth development programming may offer unique opportunities based on where youth live, Fox said, “There also can be opportunities through statewide 4-H programming for young people to connect with other young people with diverse backgrounds. This benefits youth statewide.”

In Franklin County, 4-H reaches 11,000 youth, with 800 of them enrolled in 4-H clubs, Boomershine said. There are 40 4-H clubs in the county overall, four of which are within Columbus city limits.

“Through participating in the clubs, youth learn about leadership and parliamentary procedures, participate in community service projects, and have opportunities to do public speaking,” Boomershine said. “They also choose from over 190 4-H projects to complete and then compete at the Franklin County Fair where their projects are judged and awarded.”

Most of the 4-H clubs cover all interest areas, but there are specialized clubs, too, including horse, dog and shooting sports clubs, Boomershine said.

“The kids that participate in 4-H come away with lifelong friends and an amazing leadership experience,” she said. “A Tufts University study shows that 4-H members are twice as likely to go to college.

“There is a lot of evidence that shows that kids who are part of these clubs are more civic-minded and willing to give back to others through community service.”

Tracy Turner
For more information, contact: 

Julie M. Fox

Beth Boomershine