Quick 4-H profile
• Since beginning more than 100 years ago, 4-H has grown into the largest youth development program in the country, backed by a network of more than 6 million youths, 540,000 adult volunteers, 3,500 professionals and more than 60 million alumni.
• 4-H prepares youths to be leaders through hands-on experiences alongside their peers and adults. Community clubs, after-school programs, school enrichment, camps/workshops, and special interest programs are ways Indiana children can be involved.
• 4-H is delivered through America's 109 land-grant universities and the Cooperative Extension Service. It can be found in every Indiana county as delivered through Purdue Extension.
Source: Purdue Extension
“I really like to see what kids do with their interests. That's the best part.”– Stephanie Bailey, Fort Wayne 4-H club leader
On a cool spring evening in the heart of downtown, Stephanie Bailey unpacked supplies meant to give children, as she said, “a crash course in code breaking.”
The largely paper-and-crayon activity didn't give the group insight into spies or subterfuge. Rather, it provided a dose of science, specifically about genes.
While Bailey might have seemed like a teacher at times – particularly when discussing chromosomes – the nearly dozen children she instructed at Foellinger-Freimann Botanical Conservatory weren't her students but 4-H club members.
Bailey leads two 4-H clubs through the Allen County Purdue Extension; the other club, a home-school group, meets at the Allen County Public Library. It's a role this mother of five has had for about eight years, but her 4-H tenure is much longer. She participated in the organization as a girl.
Leading a club seemed natural, she said, noting her parents were 4-H leaders.
“I also had other wonderful 4-H leaders when I was a child who were caring and knowledgeable, obvious forces for good in our small community in central Kansas,” she said.
“I stay a 4-H leader because I love to see young people stepping into service and leadership roles within the organization and developing their God-given interests and abilities. Skills learned in club meetings, projects and events translate for kids straight into their communities and then their adult lives.”
The group Bailey oversees at the botanical conservatory began this year. Area children were welcomed to join by mid-May and were assured in the description that neither cow ownership nor gardening know-how was a prerequisite.
Bailey, who grew up on a farm, said 4-H has many non-agricultural programs, making it more friendly to city youth.
Allen County has about 20 4-H clubs, including community ones that meet monthly and appeal to a broad variety of interests, horse and pony clubs, llama clubs, a robotics club, and a dog club, said Samm Johnson, 4-H youth development extension educator.
Each club has an adult leader. While it's not difficult to find leaders with 4-H experience, he said, it can be difficult to find people who can bring new skills or who can start a club in new areas of the city.
“We love Stephanie,” Johnson said, describing her as passionate and caring. “She wants kids to be passionate about the world.”
Bailey said she enjoys watching children absorb information and likes helping them pursue their strengths.