EBENSBURG – For the last century, Cambria County's youth have had the opportunity to get involved with and complete a variety of projects through 4-H clubs. To celebrate 2016 as the 100th year of this program in the county, organizers are planning special events and encouraging young people in the area to get on board.
The county extension office held a 4-H Week kickoff event on March 13, where 275 4-H members and their families enjoyed ice skating at the North Central Recreation Center in Ebensburg. More plans are underway throughout the year to celebrate the county's milestone with 4-H clubs, said Shelly Craft, a 4-H youth program assistant with the extension office.
Currently, there are 18 4-H clubs in Cambria County, each focused on different skills and subjects. Livestock clubs focus on beef, swine, lambs, goats, rabbits, poultry and dairy; equine clubs focus on the performance and production of horses; and community clubs allow students to take on sewing, cooking, shooting sports, geocaching, rocketry and other life skills.
Last year, 97 volunteer 4-H leaders assisted 315 Cambria County 4-H participants. Within each club, students work to complete a project to showcase at the Cambria County Fair and sometimes at a district, state or national level.
"Those leaders are the glue behind those 18 clubs," Craft said.
4-H is a national organization that encourages young people to participate in programs that involve four aspects – Head: managing and thinking; Heart: relating and caring; Hands: giving and working; and Health: being and living.
Ellie Bard, leader of the South Ebensburg Community 4-H Club, said 4-H projects, meetings and programs help teach responsibility and leadership skills. She also has seen first-hand how involvement in 4-H helps young people develop a sense of accomplishment, sportsmanship, self-esteem and the ability to work as a team.
"They get opportunities they wouldn't get otherwise," Bard said.
Through involvement in various 4-H activities, students may end up taking an interest in something new and work on multiple projects at a time, Bard added. Some students who participate in 4-H shooting sports have sought out colleges or universities that offer archery or air rifle teams, and others have decided to explore careers in veterinary science or breeding after experience with a livestock or equine club.
Over the years, some Cambria County 4-H clubs have combined and fees are now required to participate due to the rising costs to keep programs going, but Craft and Bard said 4-H clubs have become a tradition in the county that's been passed along through families and generations.
"We have some really dedicated people who know the benefits and don't want it to end," Bard said. "You develop a sense of pride that you want to share."
Students from ages 8 to 18 can become involved, and children ages 4 to 8 can get involved in Clover Buds programs, Craft said.
Many times, Bard said 4-H projects allow an opportunity for families to spend time together working on the project and attending showcases like the Cambria County Fair.
"It's a family affair," she said. "The parents learn as much as the kids do."
In August, Bard and Craft are working on a family-friendly event to celebrate 100 years of 4-H in the county through a dinner and comedy show to be held at Central Cambria High School Aug. 13. More details are expected in the coming months, they said.
In the meantime, Craft and Bard are looking for area 4-H club alumni to contact the Cambria County Extension Office to assist in going through archives to identify photos and other memorabilia to be used in the celebration. Contact the office at 472-7986 for more information.
Anyone interested in joining a Cambria County 4-H club should do so before the May 1 enrollment deadline. More information can be found by calling the extension office or by visiting its website, www.extension.psu.edu/cambria.