By Scott Schmidt
Alberta Newspaper Group
For southeastern youths between the ages of six and 20, joining 4H is about more than “Learn to Do by Doing.”
It’s also about options.
With eight clubs available in the Cactus Country region and another two in Forty Mile County, there has for a long time been several opportunities available to 4H’s young members. But in the past five or six years, local groups have also created more options within each of the separate clubs, allowing a much broader base of potential members to show interest.
“What we’ve done is encourage members to have smaller animals for their projects,” says Shirley Elliott, key leader for Cactus Country clubs. “So I believe this is our fifth year of having sheep projects.”
Cactus clubs started with six sheep projects in the first year, growing ever since, and Elliott says she expects the number to approach 20 this year.
“It makes sense,” she says. “If you’ve got a nine-year-old that weighs 80 pounds, and you want to put that kid on the end of a 1,500-pound steer, how safe are you going to feel?”
Of course, Elliott says it’s not an automatic that age hinders the child’s ability to work with certain animals, citing examples of kids being quite successful at it. But she says by offering a more manageable sized animal as an option, 4H becomes much more accessible to all youths in the region.
“We’ve also got a goat project, and a hog project — we’ve opened it up to different projects other than our normal horse/beef or common multi club,” Elliott says. “We’re getting a little more creative.”
Certain clubs are even seeing more kids get into the smaller animals than, say, beef projects, such as Seven Persons Beef, which actually has about two thirds of its members on a smaller-animal project.
“It’s about branching out and getting outside the normal predictable 4H projects. Families are busier than they used to be 20 years ago.
“We’re competing with (several other activities) so we’ve got to make it user friendly.”
Elliott believes 4H is among the most important of all regular childhood extracurricular activities, being that it focuses so heavily on skills that will stand the test of life. But she also believes children should have a wide variety of activity on the go, with school and sport meshing very well with 4H.
“There are just so many aspects of 4H — the community service, the public speaking — that will last throughout their life. But I also believe a young person benefits from having a balance (with other activities.)
“And it’s important to respect that.”
That’s why 4H clubs in southeastern Alberta ensure members have plenty of time left for life outside the club and their projects. And that open-minded concept has seen membership begin to spike again, with big enrolment increases seen among the younger age groups such as Cleavers (6-8) and Intermediate (9-11).
There were roughly 150 members in Cactus Country’s clubs last year, and Elliott says that number looks to be higher this year as the 4H season gets underway. And while the Seniors age group currently has the smallest overall numbers in the region, the interest shown from the younger groups is a great sign for future membership totals.
“That’s why we have to keep diversifying our projects,” Elliott says. “Because if we have members in for six to eight years doing the same projects, they’re starting to get bored and they’re not learning any new skills.
“By offering different and new projects to challenge them, they’re going to stay engaged.”
If you have a child interested in joining a local 4H club, there is still time to get involved for the new season. For more information, contact Elliott at 403-866-8528, and she can get you set up with the club that fits your child best.
“Most clubs have started but we can still take new members, usually right up until Dec. 1”
Regional 4H clubs will convene on Nov. 17 for their Colour Night, an annual awards banquet attended by more than 200 people each year. Medicine Hat Multi plays host to this year’s banquet, which will be held at the Seven Person Hall.