Making a Connection: 4-H clubs offer fun and education during the pandemic

Katie Davis of Sycamore didn’t have to worry about her children not having anything to do this summer, because they were working on their 4-H projects.

Davis’ three children are members of 4-H. Ellie, 13, and Sawyer, 10, are in DeKalb Choreboys & Choregirls and Haddie, 8, is in Cloverbuds.

Using barn wood from their great-grandfather’s barn, Ellie created a Sycamore leaf, and Sawyer made a table. Both projects received blue ribbons, and Sawyer’s project was selected to go to state.

In the past, Ellie completed sewing and stained glass projects and Sawyer learned about robots and robotics.

“I was in 4-H when I was a kid, and I loved it,” Katie Davis said. “I did sewing, baking, woodworking and candle-making. I love how the whole family can get involved and learn from the projects. With the pandemic, the kids have more time to work on their projects at home, and I like it because it’s not schoolwork or reading, yet they’re learning.”

4-H clubs have two divisions: Cloverbuds for ages 5 to 7 and Community for ages 8 to 18. There are 16 clubs in DeKalb County with about 400 members. The 4-H year begins Sept. 1 and ends Aug. 31.

Community club members can choose from more than 170 projects, including livestock, computers, nutrition, woodworking and electricity. They work on one project throughout the year.

To end the 4-H year, a large countywide general project show and a livestock fair is held, where the projects are judged. This year, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, 4-H members virtually submitted videos of their projects instead of showing them in-person.

“A big part of what 4-H is about is learning by doing hands-on activities,” said Johnna Jennings, 4-H youth development educator for Boone, DeKalb and Ogle counties. “4-H is very hands-on orientated, so the last few months during the pandemic have been very challenging for us.”

Jennings said the hands-on aspect is important “because 4-H is more than agriculture and livestock.”

“4-H started in 1902 as an agricultural club with canning, livestock and sewing,” Jennings said. “Those were the interests and hobbies of kids in those days. Now kids are interested in robotics, visual arts, STEAM [science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics]. More than half of the kids in 4-H do not live on a farm.”

The Davis family doesn't live on a farm.

“4-H is for everybody from all walks of life: families of eight, only children, all ethnicities,” Davis said. “It’s a melting pot of ages and backgrounds. As a mom, I love that it’s a mix of kids. Nobody cares about where you go to school or where you live. You’re all there to have fun and learn together. We will definitely be a 4-H family for life.”

Kim Freund of Shabbona said that when her family was shopping for a home, she wanted one with some land so that her children could participate in activities such as 4-H and have animals of their own. The family joined the Shabbona Pioneers 4-H Club when her oldest daughter, Natasha Freund, now 23, was in the third grade.

“We decided that it was a perfect time to get some animals for our small farm and a perfect segway to get the girls involved in some livestock projects,áto help give them some of the very important life-long skills that chores and animal care give,” Kim Freund said.

The girls usually show swine, but because of the pandemic, they showed poultry this year. Nadya, 17, showed Buff Orpingtons and White Leghorns, and Nikola, 14, showed Rhode Island Reds and Cuckoo Marans. Other past projects include photography, veterinary science, cooking, baking, STEAM clothing, personal artwork and visual arts.

“I primarily joined 4-H because I wanted to learn how to take care of the family farm, build communication skills, become more responsible, make new friends and try new things like 4-H projects,” Nikola Freund said.

“There seems to be no limit to the programs and projects offered through 4-H,” Nadya Freund said. “From archery to cake decorating, 4-H truly has it all. No matter one's interests, there is something to suit everyone.”

“Our goal is for our members to become contributing members of society, to be a leader and to give back to their communities,” Jennings said. “4-H members work and adapt, lead their peers, run meetings, make decisions and learn how to work and live with others.”

“The four H's of 4-H – head, heart, hands and health – are all about connecting with others,” Jennings said. “Even during the pandemic, even during challenging times, 4-H clubs are all about getting involved, helping others and learning.”

For information about 4-H in DeKalb County, visit www.extension.illinois.edu/bdo/4-h-dekalb-county.

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