On Monday, more than 500 adolescents descended on the Penn State campus ready to compete in public speaking contests, prove their proficiency in equestrian trivia and share their love for learning and for their communities.
These driven teenagers are 4-H members ages 13-18 who are participating in the 70th annual 4-H State Achievement Days, a three-day educational program sponsored by Penn State Extension.
The event grants 4-H members recognition for their achievements in competitive and non-competitive contests. Participants who excel in their contests have the chance to move on to the national competition.
The first event of the program was a community service opportunity called Amp it Up, held in the Snider Agricultural Arena.
Jared Stufft, a Pennsylvania 4-H state assistant, helped organize the event.
“Since 4-H is a community sort of organization, we’re very big on lessons learned through community service,” Stufft said. “Oftentimes, especially in teenage years, they don’t really get the opportunity to find volunteer service projects they can do, so we’re big on providing that.”
As a former 4-H member, Stufft believes firmly in the value of service activities.
“I’ve really learned that you need to give back to the communities that raised you,” Stufft said. “I lived on a farm all my life and 4-H is what I’ve known for so long; it took a huge place in my upbringing and who I’ve become today.”
The chatter of eager 4-H members filled the arena as they worked on various projects.
Some participants made birthday supply kits to donate to local food banks or shelters; others crafted dog toys out of old jeans. But the common activity among all was laughter.
Casey Baker, 17, of Crawford County, appreciates the social situations the club provides.
“I feel like 4-H is a confidence booster,” Baker said. “My two best friends, we met through 4-H. I feel like 4-H-ers have the same values, so if you meet people like that, you’ll just become best friends.”
One activity that members participated in was sole-mates, where members could donate a pair of gently worn shoes and include a note to create a connection with whomever receives the shoes.
Lydia Lion, 18, of Chester County, and Jesse Isenberg, 17, of Indiana County, are on the Pennsylvania state board council and helped run the sole-mate activity.
“I mean it’s connecting us globally,” Lion said. “A lot of service work is just local, which is great, but this can be helping anyone.”
For Isenberg, events like this help expand his world view.
“Getting an idea of what else is out there and outside of your community is really a great thing,” Isenberg said. “I’ve been to a couple service projects across the country and it’s really changed my view because I’m used to my own restricted county and local area. Getting out or sending something outside of your community really changes your view of the world and gives you a different perspective.”
Lion, who has been involved with 4-H since she was 3, has gained valuable life skills from the club.
“I’ve learned so much,” Lion said. “I’ve learned communication, leadership skills, networking skills, interview skills, pretty much anything I can think of, I’ve learned through 4-H.
“It’s helped me a lot, especially in school. I’ve seen friends get up to give a presentation and they stumble over their words, but I’ve been able to get up and be like, ‘OK, here’s my presentation,’ which is always really nice.”
Baker encourages others to join 4-H, even if they don’t think they have in interest in the club.
“If you’re smart, if you’re not, if you’re tall or if you’re short, you can join,” Baker said. “That’s what I like about it.”