Local communities try to save struggling 4-H clubsWritten by John Seewer (AP) | | email@example.com
Cuts in state and county spending are threatening to shut down 4-H clubs in several states, leaving parents and supporters scrambling to fill the gap to keep programs going.
Voters in one Ohio county will decide in May whether to approve a levy that will keep 4-H and other agriculture services operating.
“It irritates me how our community thinks we can just drop this,” said Julie Snyder, whose three sons have been in 4-H in central Ohio’s Morrow County. “We’re not just campaigning for 4-H, we’re campaigning to keep our agriculture going.”
Bright red barns, county fairs and 4-H: Few symbols better represent the nation’s agricultural heritage.
But the steady decline in the number of people who have ties to agriculture means there’s also less appreciation — and in some cases support — for 4-H programs even though they teach kids who aren’t just from farms. About half of the 6 million children taking part in 4-H come from cities and suburbs.
The nonprofit 4-H program that began in 1902 is administered and funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and also receives funding from states and counties.
With budgets everywhere shrinking, 4-H is no longer immune.
In Louisiana, some county 4-H advisers are in danger of losing their jobs. A 4-H center in Milan, Tenn., where youngsters learn swimming and canoeing is scheduled to close this summer.
Washington County commissioners outside Minneapolis voted last month to eliminate the $130,000 it spends each year on 4-H. They said the expense was too much at a time when they’re cutting $3.1 million and 21 other jobs.
“We’re going to do whatever we can to save the program,” said Carrie Anderson, whose two teenage sons are fourth-generation 4-H members.
Her home in Stillwater, Minn., is filled with furniture — including coffee tables, benches and bookcases — that her sons made for their 4-H woodworking projects. They’ve also raised beef cattle and pigs.
But what is more important, she said, they’ve learned about responsibility and respect for others. She wishes others could see the positive impact it has on young lives.
“Our county commissioners didn’t deny it was a good program,” she said. “They just didn’t want it funded by taxpayer dollars.”
Keeping 4-H alive will mean higher dues for parents, she said. “It’s going to turn much more into a fundraising program,” she said. “We got lots of letters of support, but nobody had money to back it up.”
Residents and businesses in Allen County in northwest Ohio have raised about $100,000 in recent months to privately fund 4-H after cuts were made to the Ohio State University extension office that oversees the program.
“We’ve found out just how important the 4-H program is to families,” said Jay Begg, who manages the county fair and is helping with the fundraising.
“I’m sympathetic to the funding issues the commissioners have, but my priorities are a little different,” he said.
In Louisiana, a proposed $13.3 million cut for the Louisiana State University Agricultural Center would mean the loss of about 100 extension instructors and staff, including 4-H educators.
That has prompted residents from around the state to lobby lawmakers for more funding, said Paul Coreil, director of the Louisiana Cooperative Extension Service.
“They won’t accept the reductions,” he said. “It’s sacred to a point, but they see the results, too.”
The 4-H programs — whether they’re about photography, science or sewing — are diverse enough to capture the interest of any child and go beyond what they learn in school, Coreil said.
“They can’t provide some of these life skills that we can,” he said.
On the Net: 4-H Web site: http://4-h.org/