By JULIANNE WU, Times Staff Writer
LARGO -- On a recent Saturday morning, about 75 members of 4-H gathered at the Pinellas County Cooperative Extension building to demonstrate various subjects ranging from cooking to horticulture to rocket science. They were cheered on by about 100 parents, volunteers and 4-H staffers.
Most important, the 4-H'ers were given the chance to get up in public and demonstrate something they had researched for months. Winners of the local judging will advance to the district 4-H competition in May.
The recent demonstrations, which used to be called part of public speaking, are just one of the ways the Pinellas County 4-H -- which encompasses about 600 youngsters in nearly 40 area clubs -- is helping to observe the 100th anniversary of the founding of 4-H nationally.
"The 4-H is no longer about "cows, sows and plows' or just agriculture," said Cora Meares, a 4-H coordinator. "We are interested in youth development. Basically, whatever kids want to learn, we will tailor a program for them."
Two young people who have literally grown up in 4-H had nothing but good things to say about it.
"At first, my mom made me do it," said Kelli Ford, 15, of St. Petersburg. "But I like the activities and summer camp. Also, I've learned a lot of helpful hints."
Ford, who is home-schooled, is in 4-H with her four brothers and a sister. She has been a 4-H'er for seven years. Her demonstration on Saturday was on how to make snacks that resemble animals.
Ben Wrobel, 18, of Dunedin has been in 4-H for 13 years, ever since his mom, Jean Rogalsky -- now an employee of the extension service -- was a leader. He followed an older sister who was also in 4-H.
"In 4-H, you get to meet a lot of people and do a lot of things," said Wrobel, a Dunedin High School senior who plans to go to college.
He also had the distinction of attending 4-H's National Conversation on Youth Development in the 21st Century from Feb. 28 to March 2 in Washington, D.C.
He and Julia Burton, a 4-H volunteer, were among 1,200 youth and adults from throughout the country who participated in the event, which had as its purpose to create a youth-led action plan to improve urban, suburban and rural communities nationwide.
"I think (one of the best parts) was the experience of meeting people from every part of America," said Wrobel, who wants to study computer engineering but wouldn't mind becoming a politician. "I speak my mind and 4-H has definitely helped my public speaking."
Janet Harper, 31, sees a trend in 4-H. A 4-H agent for almost six years, she was in 4-H as a child in New Jersey.
"We just want people to know that 4-H is alive and well," said Harper. "It's not just about agriculture anymore."
Above all, the 4-H motto, To Make the Best Better, remains the same.
"We're our own competition," said Meares.
"In 4-H, kids are not in competition with others, but are trying to make themselves better," Harper said.
One dad, Thomas Flanagan of St. Petersburg, watching three of his young sons give demonstrations on rocketry, summed it up: "This is a great way for kids to just grow. What a great venue for them to develop their skills."
In addition to the nearly 40 clubs in Pinellas County (the first one was established in 1920), Harper said about 13,000 Pinellas County students participate in various school enrichment projects including consumer sciences, seat belt safety, the 4-H egg and chick project and public speaking.
-- Information from Times files was used in this report.
Here are some highlights of the 100-year history of 4-H:
Although no one person has been credited with starting 4-H in 1902, it got its name from a four-leaf clover that O.H. Benson designed in 1911. That symbol, signifying the four-square development of Head, Heart, Hands and Health, is still used today.
In 1912, Benson established federal-state-county programs through cooperative agreements, which tied the three entities of extension work together. By that year, 73,000 boys and 23,000 girls were enrolled in club work. Today, more than 6.8-million youngsters are involved in 4-H clubs and related school activities.
In 1914, the Smith-Lever Act established the Cooperative Extension Service, of which 4-H is a part. The act provided public financial support for extension programs.
In the 1930s, expansion of 4-H projects for girls included clothing, home management and improvement, food and nutrition and other home economics projects. For boys, the subjects included soil conservation, tractors, engineering, electricity and agricultural production. The sexes met separately until 1965.
Young people from 4-H Clubs contributed to the war effort in both world wars through food production, animal husbandry, conservation and other means.
In the mid 1990s and continuing today, 4-H has emphasized more opportunities for the involvement of youth in leadership roles and planning. The ages for 4-H are now 5 to 19.
-- From the 4-H Centennial Web site: www.4hcentennial.org
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