4-H celebrates 100 years across CanadaJacob Onyschuk credits landing his dream job to 4-H.
The 21-year-old from Legal, AB, was only a 4-H Canada member for four years, but the organization, which celebrates its 100th birthday in 2013, changed his life.
“[4-H] was an amazing experience,” said Onyschuk, who currently works in the agriculture department of North- lands in Edmonton. “To be in a group of people who are very passionate about agriculture really made an impression on me.”
“It was also a very positive environment that’s empowering to youth,” he said. “I had a lot of good mentors.” While he didn’t join 4-H until he was in his final year of high school, that same year he found himself in the finals of the national livestock judging competition.
Experiences like that, combined with programs like public speaking, led Onyschuk to the University of Alberta, where he just completed his Bachelor of Science in Agriculture with a major in Animal Science.
“The public speaking program re- ally gave me the confidence to market myself,” he said. “Throughout university, it really reflected in my classes—you could tell who was a 4-H member and who wasn’t. There’s no way I would be on the career path that I’m on if it wasn’t for 4-H.”
Although it currently has more than 26,000 members and 8,000 volunteers in Canada, 4-H hasn’t always been so large.
4-H Canada began in tiny Roland, MB, in 1913 as a club for farm children to learn about sewing, cooking, gardening and caring for livestock. Originally called Boys and Girls Clubs, the 4-H name was officially adopted in Canada in 1952 and the organization has grown and changed over the past 100 years.
“4-H is about fostering strong leaders that make a difference—to themselves, their communities and beyond,” said Shannon Benner, 4-H Canada’s CEO.
“It’s about nurturing young people who have a sense of care and responsibility outside themselves and want to effect positive change.”
Benner said that during a time when hunger is the number one challenge facing the world, and with a myriad of environmental issues such as climate change, the current generation of youth stands to inherit a failing planet.
“The importance and the relevance of 4-H in Canada has never been greater,” she said. “4-H is one of the strongest positive youth development organizations in Canada, and we are excited to enter a second century of inspiring young people to make a difference in their world.”
Andrea Church, an Airdrie, AB, resident who works as the Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development 4-H specialist for southern Alberta, echoed those sentiments and said 4-H is much more than just a club for farm kids.
As a former 4-H member, Church joined when she was 10 years old and her two teenaged children are members today.
“The reason my kids got into it was for the projects—they wanted to learn,” said Church. “In 4-H, the philosophy is to learn by doing, so that’s why the focus is on the projects.”
Each of the 4-H Canada clubs operates independently and must meet the criteria of meeting at least six times per year. 4-H members have to attend at least 70 per cent of their club’s activities, complete a project and keep a record of their progress during the process. In addition, each member must participate in a communication activity—the most popular is public speaking—and attend the club’s achievement event.
According to Church, older members really benefit from the programs that foster leadership.
“The projects are great, but it’s the extra programs the kids can go into that really start to build these young people,” she said.
Winston Gamache, an 18-year-old from Bonnyville, AB, is proof.
Gamache was awarded a Loran Scholarship and is in his first year at Queen’s University in Kingston, ON, pursuing an honours degree in biology.
“4-H has benefitted me in nearly every aspect of my life, from school to work and even in just day-to-day living,” said Gamache, a nine-year member. “Without the public speaking and confidence 4-H has given to me, I don’t think I would have been able to do so well in the interviews I had to go through to be awarded the Loran Scholarship.”
In 2013, 4-H celebrates its centennial from coast-to-coast with local, provincial and national events.