Even though 4-H (head, heart, hands and health) Clubs began as “The Tomato Club” and ”Corn Growing Club,” most people associate the organization with raising livestock for market purposes. However, today’s 4-H Clubs are about so much more than agriculture. In fact, the modern 4-H Clubs of America are youth-driven social clubs that allow young people to explore everything from crop growing to STEM programs.
Jackie Penner, 19, has been involved with 4-H for eight years. Originally joining Santa Clara’s Homesteaders 4-H Club because of an interest in dairy goats, Penner has raised numerous animals and taken on a leadership role within the organization. Now in her final year, Penner, a nursing student at Washington State University and Foothill College, said involvement the club has helped her overcome speech challenges she had growing up.
“I’ve learned a wide range of skills, such as responsibility and leadership,” she said. “I think, overall, the one thing I learned most was finding my confidence, my voice and being a better communicator. Growing up, I had language and speech challenges and I did not speak to anyone I didn’t know, and 4-H has really opened up my shell and in order to pursue the goals I wanted in 4-H, I had to do a lot of public speaking and really overcome the challenges I had.”
Likewise, Olivia Purviance, 8, a member of the 4-H Clover Club for children under 9, has credited the club for helping her. A first year member, Purviance currently participates in the crocheting program and will be submitting two of her projects at the Santa Clara County Fair.
“It has helped me be more confident in myself and I learned more about animals and all of that,” she said. “It has helped me know what I like.”
Purviance hopes to join the rabbit program next year and has already taken a leadership role in the club, occupying the position of Birthday Sunshine, which keeps track of every member’s birthday and ensures they each receive a card when their day arrives.
Purviance’s mother, Nicole, is pleased with how her daughter has taken to the club and loves how the Homesteaders 4-H Club is run.
“The other thing that’s really exciting for us—my husband and I—and why we like 4-H is just because it is youth-led and the adults really take a backseat to it,” she said. “They’re really there to provide supervision if needed but we watch the youth grow and really make it their own and I think it’s really just a great opportunity to learn by doing … It’s so supportive if you need help, and if she’s no longer interested in it, she doesn’t have to do it. That’s a lovely part of it too.”
With the motto of “make the best better,” Homesteaders 4-H Club pushes members to strive to be the best they can be and to improve the way the club operates. Each member takes pride in their program and is responsible for not only completing their program requirements, but the care and upkeep of the entire farm.
“It’s mostly about leadership,” said third-year member Raedyn McFarland, 12, “and letting the kids have more responsibility and learn more about the world around them and how to do things themselves … Now, I’m more confident in public speaking. I can say a speech, I can prepare a speech, I can do more research and figure things out. It has helped me be more social and to reach out to people more.”
Information on the Homesteaders 4-H Club, including program offerings and fees, can be found at scchomesteaders4hclub.weebly.com. Scholarships are available for those in need. Children must be at least 9-years-old to participate in large animal projects and 5-years-old to join the Clovers.