Editor’s note: Amy Dabbs’ column will return in a few weeks. Meanwhile, her colleagues will write about Clemson Extension programs in the Lowcountry. Today, Jennifer Gause Schlette looks at the 4-H program. Angela Crouch will explore the Adopt-A-Highway program, and Guinn Garrett will write about Floating Wetlands/Pond Management for homeowners.

BY JENNIFER GAUSE SCHLETTE

Special to The Post and Courier

What do Jacqueline Kennedy-Onassis, Herschel Walker, Orville Redenbacher, Johnny Cash and Dolly Parton have in common? They all were once members of the nation’s largest youth development organization, 4-H.

Under the direction of the cooperative extension services of the more than 100 land-grant universities in the country, there are 4-H clubs in every county and state in the U.S., as well as in more than 80 countries. They also are found on American Army and Air Force bases.

The 4-H programs have more than 6 million members nationwide with more than 75,000 youths participating in the program’s activities in South Carolina.

What exactly is 4-H? Since taking the position of 4-H Extension agent a short time ago, I have heard many answers ranging from “it’s a club for farm kids” to “something to do with a four leaf clover” or “I have never heard of it.”

Founded more than 100 years ago, the mission of 4-H is to empower youths to reach their full potential, working and learning in partnership with caring adults.

Originally developed to reach children in rural communities to help improve agriculture in farming communities, the first 4-H clubs were “The Tomato Club” and “The Corn Growing Club.”

University researchers soon discovered that the youngsters, who were open to innovative thinking and fresh ideas, also were eager to share new agricultural practices that they learned with the farming adults in their communities.

The symbol of the 4H, taken from the emblematic four-leaf clover, represents head, heart, hands and health. Members participate through fun and engaging programs such as robotics, rocketry, bridge building, wind power, GPS/GIS, small engines, growing plants and animal husbandry.

The program uses the well-researched curriculum known as STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) to involve children. Nutrition education is delivered through the “Health Rocks” program, which encourages healthy lifestyle choices.

Research by Tufts University shows that youths who participate in 4-H are twice as likely to get better grades in school, 41 percent less likely to participate in risky behavior and 25 percent more likely to contribute positively to their families and communities.

How can your child become involved in 4-H? It is offered through after-school programs, school enrichment activities, summer camps and clubs. These clubs are limited only by their imagination and can choose to learn about and participate in whatever inspires them. Leadership and citizenship education is built into every curriculum offered through 4-H.

This summer, area youths ages 10-13 can explore South Carolina’s rich Lowcountry waterways, learning about water quality and thriving ecosystems in a weeklong, science day camp called 4-H20. Campers will explore area beaches, kayak scenic rivers and streams, participate in water quality testing and learn about native fish, birds and other wildlife. Information can be found online at www.clemson.edu/extension/4h2o/counties/tri_county.html.

Young gardeners are invited to get involved in the new “Small Gardens Project” in which youths ages 5-19 will learn how much care and attention it takes to get fresh food from seed to table.

Using measuring, math and science skills, participants will start their gardening journey with a Clemson University soil analysis. After a little help with interpretation from Extension agents and Master Gardeners, students will experiment by planting and tending several types of vegetables. Careful recordkeeping will note weather conditions, watering times, and crop yields.

Statewide events ranging from horse shows to robotics and public-speaking competitions afford youths opportunities to learn and develop leadership potential and gain real-world skills.

It offers an array of educational programs that promote positive development. Children and teens are encouraged to “learn by doing” and work with their peers and adult volunteers to better the world in which they live. The programs plant the seeds of responsibility that will grow into a revolution of change for a better future.

For more information about the 4-H program and how you and your children can become involved, email jschlet@clemson.edu.

Online garden course

Join Clemson Extension for a five-week online course designed to help Carolina gardeners learn to grow and maintain an environmentally friendly garden.

Here are the topics: Maintaining Healthy Soils (Soil Testing, Composting, Mulching); Determine the Right Plant for the Right Place (Garden Design, Native Vegetation, Invasive Species); How to Fertilize and Managing Yard Pests; Smart Watering Techniques (Irrigation, Rainwater Harvesting); and How to Create a Backyard Wildlife Sanctuary.

Each week includes online presentations, videos and discussion forums with fellow gardeners.

You can access and view all course material at your own pace. The course cost is $99 and includes content plus supplemental materials.

Upon registering, you will receive the following in the mail: a Rain Garden Manual, a Rainwater Harvesting for Homeowners Guide, a soil test, a rain gauge and the book “Bringing Nature Home” by Douglas Tallamy.

The course is limited to 60 participants. Visit www.regonline.com/carolinayards or contact Sara Pachota pachotasg@g.cofc.edu