Oct. 4 through 12 is National 4-H Week, which celebrates the values and accomplishments of 4-H members across the country. Story County is home to 29 clubs: 4-H clubs for students in fourth to 12th grade, Clover Kids clubs for kindergarten through third grade and a Collegiate 4-H group on Iowa State's campus.
4-H isn't just for showing livestock and winning ribbons. It's a nationwide program that serves youth to empower them to their greatest potential, said Jessie Soderstrum, the county 4-H youth coordinator for Story County.
"This is done through our youth-adult partnerships and through all of those research-based experiences that [Iowa State Extension and Outreach] offers," Soderstrum said. "There are four program priority areas. You have healthy living, STEM leadership and civic engagement, and then communication and the arts. [...] Youth are invited to join the community clubs that is more of a traditional 4-H, and then we do have special events, there are camps, and then we are in schools and after schools."
The 4-H program offers over 30 different project areas for youths to engage in — such as photography, cooking, animal projects and robotics — and special interest clubs to hone their skills in a particular field. Story County 4-H has several special interest clubs, including the Shooting Sports Club, Rabbit Hopping Club, the First Robotics Club, Team Neutrino and CyStem for Fun.
Team Neutrino, a robotics club, meets on Iowa State's campus to work on their projects. Stacia Steward, a lead mentor for Team Neutrino, said the club, open to all Story County youth, meets year-round to work on a national competition robot.
"We focus mainly on robotics, so most years we have a competition with robots that we build from scratch," Steward said. "There's a different game every year, and the students have to strategize and design and build their robot, and then they compete in competitions, with three robots on each side at a time, and it’s kind of like a sports game, where they have to throw Frisbees or balls or do various things. So that's a definite focus of the team and the club."
The club takes time to give back to the community as well.
"There's also a whole other side of the club with fundraising and a lot of community outreach, where they mentor the First Lego League teams and also do things like Mini Maker Fair at the Science Center of Iowa," Stewad said. "They've partnered with the Ames Public Library and are doing some special STEM activities."
Steward said the club gives youths a lot of hands-on experience and develops their ways of thinking to give them a leg up in the engineering fields when they get to college.
"[The youths are] thinking through the engineering design process and learning computer programming or CAD software and then actually learning how to manufacture and build things, so those that want to go into those kinds of fields have a real advantage when they get to university classes and interviewing with companies for internships," Steward said. "So it's very much something that helps prepare them for future things. Many of them learned writing skills, public speaking skills, things like that."
4-H has many opportunities for youths in high school, but at Iowa State, there are also opportunities for college students in the 4-H program through Collegiate 4-H.
Elizabeth Uthoff, the webmaster for Iowa State University's Collegiate 4-H, said Collegiate 4-H is another opportunity for students to be a part of 4-H, even if they hadn't been a part of it in high school.
Collegiate 4-H is a service, leadership and networking organization that empowers students through speakers, programs and service projects from the angle of college and beyond, Uthoff said.
"We are really willing to have any student on Iowa State's campus to be involved and come check us out," Uthoff said. "[...] We're a smaller club on campus, so we have great ties and you make great relationships that are very personal. We try and partner as much as we can with other clubs on campus to do service projects and to promote their things. So even if you're just looking for service opportunities, follow us on social media."
National 4-H Week is a week to celebrate the opportunities and accomplishments of the 4-H program and its members, and for Story County, that means a week of activities and service projects. The county extension office is hosting a week-long scavenger hunt for the 4-H mascot, Chris Clover, and a food drive, as well as encouraging members to wear green on Wednesday to celebrate, Soderstrum said.
"National 4-H Week, I always view it as a way for 4-Hers and 4-H alumni to celebrate 4-H and appreciate all that the program did for them," Soderstrum said. "I know I wouldn't be in my job without having a 4-H background, so I'm very appreciative that my parents made me be a part of it. I always tell the current 4-H members that this week is a great way to invite your friends to a club meeting or just talk about your 4-H experiences, because chances are, not everyone in your school knows what 4-H is, or if they do know what it is, [they] don't really understand it."
Story County 4-H applied for and received a grant this year, which lowers enrollment fees to $5 for Clover Kids and $30 for 4-H members. The enrollment period opened Oct. 1.