- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 28, 2002

Lauren Dobos is hardly the poster image of 4-H member. Besides the white 4-H T-shirt with its easily recognizable cloverleaf symbol the 17-year-old Rockville girl wears 10 multicolored studs in her left and right earlobes. She has another stud in her navel, she volunteers.
A member since she was 8, 4-H for her is about the friends she has made and the activities she has been a part of.
"A lot of people don't join because they think it has to do with agriculture," she said. "But it has more to do with leadership."
At Martha's Table in Northwest yesterday, youths like Lauren ranging in age from 8 to 17 helped inner-city children read, as part of the 4-H Club's Power of Youth initiative.
It's a long way from the rural Midwest of 1902, where 4-H was founded as an after-school club to teach students how to run productive farms.
As 4-H marks its centennial, members are promoting the diversity of the club's programs.
Under the motto "To make the best better," pledges promise their four H's head, heart, hands and health. Today, more than 2 million members focus on leadership, earth science and nutrition, as well as the traditional livestock and plant projects.
"The most significant change is the programming," said 4-H President Donald Floyd. "Instead of only being able to show corn and cows, you now have a chance to work with technology. For example, children in the south Bronx are using hydroponics to grow plants on rooftops."
In other words, 4-H isn't just about cows and apple pies.
Lauren's club has once-a-month business meetings where they discuss upcoming events and opportunities, activities meetings where they volunteer their time in community service, and project meetings where they learn about anything from food and nutrition to fashion to model rockets.
About a dozen projects are ongoing in each club, and members usually participate in two at a time.
To determine youth-development issues for years to come, the club is hosting a national meeting in Arlington that begins today and runs through Sunday.
Last fall, county and state 4-H clubs swapped ideas at smaller conventions, which they were to contribute to the national meeting. Thousands will bring their most important concerns and best ideas and vote on a national agenda at the Hyatt Regency Crystal City. Club leaders will present the results to Congress in April, said JuliAnne Forrest, a public representative for 4-H.
Daryl Walker, 13, thinks children from single-parent homes need more adult guidance and suggested at his regional convention that a database be created of adults willing to spend time with children.
Already taller than 6 feet, his hair braided in cornrows, Daryl joined 4-H because his local club in Alexandria was attending a speech by Secretary of State Colin L. Powell.
"The experience you get, the hands-on activity you get so close to what's going on in the world," he said.
The Power of Youth campaign is also a part of 4-H's centennial celebration. It allows youths, adults, members or nonmembers sign up for community service hours.
The campaign has attracted more than 100,000 pledges from volunteers who have promised more than 1 million hours to help elderly people, tutor younger people or work with literacy programs like yesterday's event at Martha's Table, Miss Forrest said.
Michaela Dubisette's club, the D.C. Gentle East club based in Columbia Heights in Northwest, just won an award from the Washington Redskins leadership council for its work cleaning up nearby Justice Park.
"It's fun because after we clean up the park we can have a picnic," said Michaela, 8.
Her mother and club leader, Gloria Dubisette, said the 4-H club contacted Mayor Anthony A. Williams' office and secured promises that the park would be lit and that police would increase patrols to discourage drug dealers from loitering.
"It showed these kids they could make a difference," Mrs. Dubisette said.
One of the first meetings of the 4-H Club was held in the basement of a county building in Ohio, where a superintendent asked a handful of bewildered students to test soil for acidity. At the same time, a group of youths in Iowa began competing to grow the best quality corn. By 1912, 96,000 boys and girls were members.
Celebrities such as Dolly Parton, Holly Hunter, Glen Campbell, Johnny Carson, Roy Rogers and Reba McEntire all have recited these words: "I pledge my head to clearer thinking, my heart to greater loyalty, my hands to larger service, and my health for better living … for my club, my community, my country and my world."
Fifty-five members of Congress also are among the group's 50 million alumni.
With help from a partnership with J.C. Penney, 4-H is now bolstering after-school programs with computer groups, homework clubs and community service projects.
"Some kids have no place to go, and that can be dangerous, so we are trying to create a safe place," Mr. Floyd said.
The after-school program partnership, which was sealed late last month, will give 4-H millions of dollars over the next few years to enhance programs that now serve more than 4.2 million youths from kindergarten through high school.
"4-H will change as the community changes, but will continue to value the voice of young people," Mr. Floyd said.
"Sometimes you have to park your logo at the door and ask, 'What's right for kids?'"


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