After 40 years, Summit County 4-H program still about head, heart, hands and health | SummitDaily.com

After 40 years, Summit County 4-H program still about head, heart, hands and health

The Summit County 4-H program has continued to evolve in its nearly 40 years serving the community's youth, but its emphasis on building strong character and making a difference in the lives of participants remains unchanged.

"It's about developing the all-around youth," said Kathie Kralik, the county's program manager for two decades. "We want to provide them another adult who can offer them feedback about healthy lifestyles to really give them a positive environment to grow up in, and just show that we care about them."

This national organization dating to the start of the 20th century through the U.S. Department of Agriculture stayed relevant for decades by teaching life skills such as leadership, respect and accountability through activities like animal husbandry, sewing and food canning. But Summit's program isn't your granddad's 4-H.

The raising of chickens and sheep and horseback riding have made a mild comeback in recent years, as area children and families aspire to compete at Grand County's annual Middle Park Fair in August. This summer marks the first time Summit's club will offer a course on aerial drones, for instance, on the back of transitioning to a greater emphasis on science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, through a partnership with the school district.

"The interests have really changed," said Kralik. "The last six or seven years it's all about STEM, and that's been our strongest program with the school, things like robotics, rocketry and electricity. All of these really cool science projects are great, because it's allowed us to keep up with the curve and meet the needs of the community."

The bulk of the STEM courses for the year-round club are offered during the school year, so during the summer months, Summit 4-H gets back to the basics primarily for those ages 8-18. Activities include hiking, fishing and traditional stalwarts like range rifle shooting and archery. For children as young as 5, courses in arts and crafts such as drawing, painting or ceramics, leatherwork, or even cake decorating are also available.

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All the while, through hobbies familiar to local adults, the pledge of the head, heart, hands and health — the 'H' in 4-H — has stayed the same.

"Teachers may not know what their talents are, but they will bring life skills to 4-H that these kids need," said longtime archery volunteer Annie Lindsey. "It's just about knowing how to make them feel better, and they always leave my range better than when they walked up. It's amazing for me to watch them grow, and that's really why I keep doing it year after year. It's something that makes my heart sing."

To continue the positive trend in the community, the program requires new volunteers each summer to meet the changing interests of kids. Between 200-300 children typically participate during the county's warm-weather months, with as many as 1,000 participating each year. Just the same, residents willing to help them learn new hobbies are gladly welcomed.

"Adults that enjoy working with kids, I want to share their hobby," said Kralik. "I don't care what it is, if they want to share, maybe photography or something like that, that's what I'm looking for."

Following a background check and orientation, volunteers are asked to teach between four and six sessions for an hour each to help build relationships with kids. How many children, as well as the time and day of the week the class meets, are entirely up to the instructor and his or her schedule. Currently the program is specifically seeking out candidates to lead groups for mountain biking, fly-fishing and arts and crafts courses.

For families interested in signing up, 4-H membership runs $45 for the full year, and scholarships are available for those where money could be a potential obstacle. The money goes toward program insurance, supplies and class awards.

"If they want to do it, there isn't a kid that's going to get left behind," said Lindsey. "And that's kind of cool, too — it's for everybody."

The same is true of who in the county can sign up to be an activity volunteer leader, for the summer and beyond.

"I don't have kids, but I love doing this and the interaction, and making a difference," she added. "New leaders who get excited about giving back to the community, not with money, but time and expertise, that's what we need."

For more information on 4-h:

Contact Kathie Kralik to become an adult volunteer or register your child at: kathie.kralik@summitcountyco.gov or 970-668-4142.