4-H in the Mahoning and Shenango valleys has many faces.
By NANCY TULLIS
VINDICATOR SALEM BUREAU
It's not just for farmers anymore.
For junior high pupils in New Castle, 4-H is rocket science.
For urban kids in Columbiana County, 4-H is wrestling in the grass, splashing in the creek and seeing a chipmunk for the first time.
For thousands of elementary pupils in the Mahoning and Shenango valleys, 4-H is learning about nutrition or bike safety, or watching chicks hatch from eggs after a 21-day wait.
Ohio State and Penn State 4-H extension agents agree that as 4-H celebrates its centennial this year, the organization is more diverse than ever.
As extension agents continue to search for volunteers to lead traditional, agricultural and animal-based 4-H clubs, volunteers are also needed to lead 4-H participants with interests other than agriculture.
Jennifer Kampfer, 4-H assistant in Mahoning County, said agriculture- or animal-related clubs there are in the minority. One of the most successful Mahoning County clubs is Youngstown Rainbow Dragons, an urban club that meets in Youngstown at St. Dominic's School on Southern Boulevard.
Julie Herron, 4-H extension agent for Columbiana County, said 4-H programs in the urban areas of Wellsville and East Liverpool the past few years have been very successful.
In fact, if volunteer leaders were available, there is enough interest to start clubs for the kids in the Metropolitan Housing Authority systems in those communities.
Janet McDougall, extension agent in Mercer County, said 4-H programs during the school year teach high school students life skills such as money management, budgeting, dealing with landlords and rental agreements, etc.
Other programs teach younger pupils skills needed when they are home alone or left in charge of younger siblings without adults present, she said.
During the school year just ended, Brian Dickinson, 4-H extension agent in Lawrence County, taught Ben Franklin Junior High eighth-graders to build rockets. Then they launched them over the high school football field.
Dickinson said one of the most successful 4-H clubs in Lawrence County is a bowling club organized 40 years ago.
McDougall and Dickinson said rabbit clubs are popular in urban areas of western Pennsylvania because 4-H participants can easily care for rabbits in their back yards.
Day camp in Columbiana County was just completed last week at Beaver Creek State Park.
What counselor said
Janelle Baltputnis, 20, of Salem was a day camp counselor. She said she was involved in 4-H for 10 years and enjoys being a day camp counselor, working with a diverse mix of campers. Some are a challenge, and others you want to hug tightly and take home with you, she said.
Baltputnis said she likes the idea that 4-H has expanded to reach beyond the traditional county fair-related education programs.
As the campers converged at a pavilion for lunch, it was evident most were having the time of their lives.
Andrea Williams, 9, of Wellsville, devoured a sandwich as she talked about her camp experience. Between mouthfuls of lunch, she said the busy morning of activities had made her very hungry.
Betty Richey, 6, of East Palestine proudly exclaimed that she hit a home run during the morning's baseball game. Her sister, Melinda, who said she is almost 8, talked of spotting squirrels, frogs and the tracks of deer during a nature hike.
Andre Coles, 7, of Wellsville said he enjoyed watching the ducks at the park, and his goal for the week was to pet one.
His cousin, Amanda Coles, 7, of Wellsville, said she thought hiking in the creek on a hot day was the best activity of the week.
Veteran day-camper Seth Fieldhouse, 12, of New Waterford, found being a junior counselor for the first time both fun and exhausting.
He said he wasn't surprised when the creek hike was by far the campers' favorite activity of the week.
Seth said although some campers were at first timid about stepping into the creek, most were wet from head to toe by the end of the hike.
It seems campers found falling into the creek far more exciting than looking for minnows and crayfish.