By Starrla Cray
The 4-H program in Washington County was recently dropped from the county budget, but local officials say 4-H clubs in Wright, McLeod, Carver, and Meeker counties are still going strong.
“Four-H is good for the community and the county,” Wright County Commissioner Dick Mattson said. “We have it budgeted for next year without a problem.”
Regional 4-H Director Sarah Chur works with Wright, McLeod, and Meeker counties.
“All three counties are extremely supportive,” she said. “Our programs are strong.”
Hennepin County 4-H Program Coordinator Amie Mondl said their 14 clubs are thriving as well.
“One thing that’s really great about Hennepin County’s program is that we try to serve a diverse range of interests,” Mondl said.
Funding for 4-H is a combination of state, federal, and county dollars, University of Minnesota Extension Assistant Dean Aimee Viniard-Weideman said.
Local 4-H staff is funded solely through each county’s budget. An annual contract of $64,900 is allocated for each full-time program coordinator. That amount includes salary, benefits, travel expenses, supervision, and development of programs delivered locally, Viniard-Weideman said.
In Mattson’s opinion, 4-H is a program that is well worth the money.
“Four-H is just like school,” he said. “You don’t cut funding for programs for young people. I was so shocked when I saw that [Washington County] had dropped it,” he said. For Wright County, cutting 4-H funding “isn’t even in our thoughts.”
Local 4-H clubs also do fundraisers throughout the year, Winsted resident Susan Goebel said. Goebel, whose children are involved in the Winsted Jolly Juniors 4-H club, said participants and their families work at the McLeod County Fair and run a malt stand at Winsted’s city summer celebration.
Although there is currently no statewide fee, many counties choose to incorporate a membership fee to help pay for the program, Viniard-Weideman said. In Carver County, for example, members pay an annual fee of $15 per person, capped at $30 per family, program coordinator Rachel Bender said. This money funds a summer internship position.
In addition to the benefits 4-H provides to participants, there is a “huge public value” as well, Chur said.
“It’s a family-oriented program,” said Mattson, whose children had been involved in 4-H.
“It’s a great tool for youth development,” Wright County Interim 4-H Program Coordinator Aaron Goulet said. A common misconception is that 4-H is an agricultural club, he said.
“There are so many more different aspects,” Goulet said, listing photography, clothing, and horticulture as a few examples.
A science, engineering, and technology (SET) initiative was also recently introduced, Chur said. “We really emphasize learning by doing,” she said.
Nationwide, six million youth are involved in 4-H, according to the program’s official web site, www.4-H.org.
“Four-H is actually growing,” Chur said.
Carver County has 1,022 total participants. McLeod has 562, Wright has 580, and Meeker has 714.
“Across the board, 4-H program memberships seem to go in cycles,” Bender said. “We’re definitely on an upswing this year.”
Washington County, located east of the Twin Cities, had more than 500 participants, and Viniard-Weideman said she is hoping to keep these youth involved in 4-H.
“While it is a change for us, we are still very committed to working with the 4-H’ers in Washington County,” she said. “Without county staff, it won’t be the full picture of what people are used to, but we have to look at moving into other models and other possibilities.”
“We know these are really difficult budget times,” Chur said. “Counties are forced to make some really difficult decisions.”
In McLeod County, Commissioner Ray Bayerl said 4-H is already in the 2009 budget.
“As of this point, we’re status quo right now,” he said. “Like all the other counties, we don’t know what’s coming. We don’t know how much we’re going to be cut.”
“Counties are in a really tough position,” Chur said, adding that 4-H clubs are doing what they can to keep costs down.
In addition to helping counties and youth, Mattson said 4-H is good for families.
“The family that works and plays together, stays together,” he said.