When a lot of people hear the term 4-H, they associate it with children who raise livestock and sell it at the local county fair.
And while that is a big part of the organization, there is a lot more to it than that, said Alisha Straatman, who is the 4-H youth coordinator for Cache County.
“This is not for just kids who live on a farm, but 4-H is anything that’s going to help the youth to (eventually) be more proficient adults, so service and healthy living, things like that,” Straatman said.
Most of the 4-H members are at least 8 years old, although there is a program for those ages 5-7, and those children are referred to as Cloverbuds. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, none of these kids are able to attend school in person right now.
As a result, the Cache County 4-H program is doing what it can to help engage these children while they are cooped up at home. For starters, the organization is holding virtual club meetings every Monday, Wednesday and Friday afternoons on its Facebook page, facebook.com/cachecounty4h.
Straatman said she was in scramble mode when this global health crisis first started taking effect. However, the local 4-H program has since found practical ways to give children a welcome distraction.
When the social distancing precautions began, “I was like, ‘OK, what do I do? How do I get kids to still be involved?’ And I have experience with Facebook and just from a previous job with Facebook Live, so I’m like, ‘OK, let’s do that,’” Straatman said.
Prior to each virtual club meeting, Straatman posts on the aforementioned Facebook page any supplies that will be needed for the activity. Straatman makes sure to keep the activities simple so the supplies will be easy to acquire.
On Monday of this week, Straatman helped demonstrate how to make shaving cream Easter eggs. Wednesday’s activity entailed Cache County 4-H agent Scott Williams discussing junior livestock production, and Friday’s activity involved making wildflower seed bombs — an easy way to plant a garden of wildflowers.
“The idea is kids can follow along while we’re doing the activity and we will explain what we’re doing, and they can do it on their own or they can go back and watch it later on,” Straatman said. “I just wanted to get kids doing something that’s not just on the computer because a lot of them are tired of being on Zoom (video web conferencing) calls and tired of having to watch TVs and watch screens, so the idea is here’s an activity and watch us do it, and now you go do it.”
Longtime local 4-H club member Arnica Hull has been participating in some of these recent Facebook Live activities and has enjoyed having a break from her daily routine.
“It’s nice because I get a break after doing all of my school work,” said Hull, who is a seventh-grader at Mount Logan Middle School.
Hull has especially enjoyed making dog toys, plus constructing bracelets and animals out of rubber bands. The 12-year-old has been heavily involved in 4-H for the past four or so years.
“I think the pledge motto is make the best better, so that means 4-H tries to make people’s lives better and teaches you new things,” Hull said.
In addition to its virtual club meetings, the local 4-H organization has been issuing daily service-oriented challenges on Facebook and Instagram. Among the challenges for this week have been doorbell-ditching care packages for neighbors, painting “cute” rocks and leaving them on nature trails for others to find, and picking up trash in one’s neighborhood.
Cache County 4-H also recently had quilt-top bundles available for people to pick up and sew. The organization has an annual quilt night in December and takes the finished products around to local rest homes. The children also sing at these rest homes.
This is also the type of activity Hull treasures.
“I like to know that I’m helping other people,” she said. “It means a lot.”
This weekend Cache County 4-H is holding an Easter egg hunt in “social distancing fashion.” Club members throughout Cache Valley have been encouraged to make paper Easter eggs and place them in their windows or hang them from their trees. Club members will then take a drive with their family and search for these eggs at the various locations.
Straatman is hopeful activities like this will help lift the spirits of children during these challenging times.
“I love being able to help kids think outside the box and also to help parents because they are also stuck at home,” she said. “And you can only do worksheets for so many hours, so I take a lot of pride in helping kids discover … their spark, what makes them tick, what do they enjoy, and 4-H is about helping them find what they love, whether that’s sewing or animals or art or leadership. We have a really talented photography club. … For me it’s, ‘Let’s make the best of this time instead of being sad about it.’”
The Cache County 4-H program is part of Utah State University Extension, which is something Straatman said a lot of people don’t realize.
“We’re basically the youth programming side for Utah State, so we take research-based activities that the University Extension does and we apply them to kids,” she said.
For those curious about the local 4-H program, Straatman encouraged them to check it out on social media and “see what 4-H can do for them.” More information about Cache County 4-H can also be found at https://extension.usu.edu/cache/4-H/.