The Bolivar County Extension Service reaches out to local youth through its
4-H program in efforts to engage them in experiences of a lifetime.
There are over 2,363 youths that participate in the 4-H program through special interest projects, enrichment programs and organized clubs.
The mission of the program is accomplished through the involvement of parents, volunteer leaders and other adult who organize and conduct educational experiences in community, school and family setting.
These experiences promote individual growth in knowledge, skills and attitudes, which, in turn, encourage family interaction.
4-H offers youth opportunities to develop skills and interest through participation in learn-by-doing projects.
The name represents four personal development areas of focus for the organization: head, heart, hands, and health.
The organization has over 6.5 million members in the United States, from ages 5 to 21, in approximately 90,000 clubs.
The goal of 4-H is to develop citizenship, leadership, responsibility and life skills of youth through experiential learning programs and a positive youth development approach.
Though typically thought of as an agriculturally focused organization as a result of its history, 4-H today focuses on citizenship, healthy living, science, engineering, and technology programs.
The 4-H program aims to educate youth in arts and sciences and to encourage fellowship and service opportunities. With continued urban sprawl, 4-H continues to develop new projects for its members to study beyond agriculture and animal husbandry, including photography, conservation, cooking, public speaking, shooting sports, history, art, and other pursuits.
The organization is often associated with summer camps, county fairs and state fairs. 4-H has spread out across the world and regularly awards and sponsors the States' 4-H International Exchange Program; formerly known as the International Four-H Youth Exchange, trips, and cultural events.
According to Bolivar County 4-H'er Myrtis Porter, she has learned skills in the program that she will remember for the rest of her life.
"I have been given so many opportunities because of my involvement with 4-H. I often try to encourage some of my peers to join this program because it has been beneficial to me in so many ways. This is my last year in the program but I definitely plan to come back and volunteer in my hometown," said Myrtis.
Today, 4-H and related programs exist in over 80 countries around the world; the organization and administration varies from country to country. Each of these programs operates independently, but cooperatively through international exchanges, global education programs, and communications.
Although the program offers promising benefits and exciting learning experiences, according to Extension Coordinator and Agent Laura Giaccaglia, the program is not offered to students by schools in Bolivar County.
"I think the reason that we don't have a 4-H program in schools here is because there is a lot of time spent on trying to teach children and prepare them for upcoming tests, which is very important," she said.
The Bolivar County Extension Service recruits 4-H'ers through 'word of mouth.'
"We also have what is called a 'grassroots mail out.' I have a list of all of the local schools and churches in the county — I send out newsletters to various places and we also use flyers to spread the word," she added.
The 4-H program in Bolivar County has several special interest programs that usually last around three to five days.
"Some of our special interests programs include Kids in the Kitchen and Sewing Camps. They only last a few days. We also have what I refer to as "day camps" — an example of that is our Science, Technology, Engineering and Math program," said Giaccaglia.
According to Giaccaglia, some of the most rewarding experiences that 4-H'ers participate in are the various competitions.
"They get a chance to travel to different places and participate in competitions. My favorite competition is the horse show—I guess because it reminds me of my childhood," said Giaccaglia.
She is very passionate about her role in 4-H and she said that she was inspired to become an agent after listening to another agent give a presentation, while she attended Delta State University.
"One day in class we had a guest speaker come talk to us about what she did. She was an extension agent in Bolivar County — she was a Home Economist at the time and she talked to us about what she did for a living," she said.
"She shared with us how she went out and conducted programs in the community — sharing her knowledge and expertise with others. After I heard her talk, I began working towards the goal of becoming an agent because I felt that this was a fit for me," added Giaccaglia.
She has been an agent for over 14 years and she said that she finds her job highly rewarding.
"The most rewarding part of my job is to see my 4-H'ers who started with me from ages five to eight and I watched them graduate from high school. I have seen them progress through the years. I have watched them grow and develop as young men and women. Knowing that I have played a part in their growth and development has been one of the most rewarding aspects of my job," Giaccaglia added.
For more information about 4-H or to become a member, please call Giaccaglia at 662-843-8361.