LAFAYETTE — With 4-H enrollment season well underway and National 4-H Week running from Oct. 6-12, benefits of joining what is the largest youth organization in the country were on full display at the Chippewa County 4-H open house on Sept. 30 at Lafayette Town Hall.

The purpose of 4-H is “developing future leaders and future adults,” said Heidi Vanderloop, 4-H program coordinator for Chippewa County. While the program is not a substitute for school, she added, it is a great supplement, and 4-H members are able to “learn by doing.”

What makes 4-H different, Vanderloop said, is its experiential learning model that has been developed and supported by university research.

With foundations of the program laid by 1902, 4-H originally began as corn clubs for boys and canning clubs for girls, Vanderloop said. Over the next few decades, the youth clubs became part of the Extension system, and 4-H clubs were nationalized.

Those at the open house learned what projects and activities were available for members to participate in. 4-H offers a wide variety of projects ranging from animal showing and theater arts to shooting sports and sewing. Camps and other group activities are also offered.

In addition to receiving background information on the program, attendees of the open house, youth and adults alike, participated in an activity to piece together the 4-H pledge, which was then read aloud by a youth volunteer; learned how to recite the pledge complete with its hand motions; were introduced to some club leaders and joined together for an icebreaker activity.

While parents were receiving more information about the role they play in the 4-H organization, which is typically a highly family-focused program, kids were able to head outside for a leather craft where they made their own bookmarks with the help of older 4-H participants like Hannah Tambornino, Emily Syverson and Alyssa Hysell, who each explained what 4-H has done for them over the years they’ve been members.

Tambornino, who joined 4-H when her family was looking for more activities that they could do together, said, “Through 4-H, I’ve definitely gained leadership skills. I’ve been more confident talking to people, talking in front of people, doing things with people.”

Syverson, who joined 4-H through her father, a 4-H alumnus, echoed those sentiments and added, “I love doing the service projects that we get to do. I wouldn’t trade that for the world.”

The lasting benefits and friendships gained from participating in 4-H were some highlights of their experiences thus far.

Hysell, who joined the program because her uncle had been in 4-H, said she was much shyer before she joined 4-H and that “it definitely helps you break out of your shell.”

4-H offers students opportunities to discover and pursue their interests and take leadership initiative within their clubs.

“I’m learning life skills that will definitely take me far and that you need in life because of 4-H,” Tambornino said.

Chippewa County 4-H is made up of 14 individual clubs that are scattered around the county. Members do not have to join the club nearest them but can rather select one that best meets their interests and schedule.

4-H is open to anyone regardless of whether they live in town, the city or the country. The community often steps in to help with resources as need be; for instance, kids who are interested in animals but don’t have one or a place to keep one can often find assistance from someone nearby who has resources they’re willing to share with 4-Hers.

The 2019-20 enrollment period began in September. New families can enroll at any point during the 4-H year, although deadlines may apply for fair entries and early enrollment is appreciated. Returning members/families in Chippewa County should enroll by Nov. 1.

Visit chippewa.extension.wisc.edu for more information about 4-H in Chippewa County, or visit 4-h.org for more information about the national program. Other 4-H programs in Wisconsin can be found through local Extension offices.

National 4-H Week continues to run through Oct. 12, with the theme “Inspire Kids to Do.” Special activities for 4-H clubs are taking place across Wisconsin and the rest of the country. Around 6 million youth participate in 4-H nationwide.