Chesterton Tribune

Thriving Duneland 4H groups offer more than farm projects

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By VICKI URBANIK

With the dissolution of one club and the start of a new one, Porter County’s 4-H program in the Duneland community has gone through some changes in recent years, but the interest still remains strong -- and growing.

“4-H is definitely alive in the Duneland area. It’s alive and well,” said Purdue 4-H Youth Development Extension Educator Joan Grott.

Contrary to what some might think, 4-H isn’t just for kids who live on farms or who care for farm animals. While animal care remains a mainstay of the youth program, 4-Hers have a dizzying array of other projects to choose from, many of which have little or nothing to do with agriculture.

In fact, the vast majority of the 4-Hers in one of the Duneland clubs, the Lakeshore Drifters, don’t participate in animal projects but in other endeavors, like photography, electricity, gardening, Legos, or foods.

“We’re breaking that mold” that 4-H is just for farm kids, said Lakeshore Drifters leader Joyce Thomas.

In short, 4-H works this way: Students in grades 3 through 12 join a local 4-H club and are invited to participate in club meetings, activities and community service. 4-Hers sign up for projects that interest them -- they have more than 60 different topics to chose from -- and are invited to attend workshops, led by adult volunteers, that explore those projects in more depth.

For example, 4-Hers in the photography project might spend an afternoon at a park where expert advice is given on how to take the best photos. Kids in the geology project might spend time with a teacher scouring over their newfound rocks and minerals, while those in the bridge building project learn the best ways to build a sturdy, small-scale bridge.

The most popular 4-H projects include photography, dogs, foods, Legos, Horse and Pony, drawing and shooting sports.

Much of the 4-Hers’ work leads up to the Porter County Fair, where members display their projects or show their animals. They are in effect competing with their peers in their projects and age groups, vying for one of the prized ribbons or plaques. If their work is deemed the best of the best in their division, they might get the chance to represent Porter County at the State Fair, where they vie with other 4-H members from throughout the state.

Students younger than third grade are also invited to join through 4-H Explorers, for those in kindergarten, first and second grades. Explorers can also display their projects at the County Fair, though the nature of their projects and the ribbons awarded differ from those for the older members.

Showing a project at the fair isn’t mandatory for a 4-H member to achieve completion status in their project. But the more that members do in 4-H, the better their chances of securing special recognition and even scholarships.

Young 4-H members might be awarded a “Rising Star” honor for showing special promise. Older members might get selected as ambassadors. Another special award is bestowed annually upon the 10-year members, or those who join in third grade and stay with the program through high school graduation.

The Duneland community now has four 4-H clubs: Lakeshore Drifters, Jackson Volunteers, Liberty Hot Shots and a new club in its first year, Discovery Trackers. Like all 4-H clubs, youth members can join any club that suits them. They don’t have to live in their club’s home township.

Discovery Trackers is a good example. The club originated out of the new Discovery Charter School and holds its meetings there, but it’s open to everyone, Grott said.

Similarly, Lakeshore Drifters has members from Valparaiso and Portage and even a few outside of Porter County. Thomas said 4-Hers cross township lines to join 4-H clubs for any of a number of reasons, one of which could be that they can’t make their home club’s designated meeting times.

Duneland used to have a Westchester Township-based club, but that discontinued two to three years ago due to dwindling membership. The youth in that club then joined other clubs, Thomas said.

Of Duneland’s four clubs, Lakeshore Drifters is the largest with a membership approaching 100. At any given meeting, an average of about 60 members and their parents, attend, Thomas said.

Along with a variety of projects they can work on, 4-H members are invited to participate in community service projects. Lakeshore Drifters members, for example, have played bingo with nursing home residents, prepared packages for troops, and cooked a meal at the Ronald McDonald House, while the Explorers have made placemats for Meals on Wheels.

Lakeshore Drifters itself has gone through some changes. The club used to meet at Brummitt Elementary School, but because of budget cuts at the Duneland Schools and restrictions on outside group use of buildings, the club had to stop meeting at the school. The Drifters now meet at the Hawthorne Park Community Building in Porter, where sometimes the meetings are so well attended “it gets a little tight,” Thomas said.

Thomas, a long-time leader of Lakeshore Drifters, recalls that a mere 11 years ago, the club had 17 members. “We’re growing fast,” she said.

How to Join

A student can join 4-H at any time in the year, though current members have a January deadline for enrolling in their chosen projects, with a “drop and add” option available through April. For more information, contact Purdue Extension Office at 465-3555 or go online at www.extension.purdue.edu/porter

and click on 4-H Youth Development on the left.

 

Posted 12/15/2010