4-H carries through second COVID year

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By Craig W. Anderson

It will take more than a pandemic to slow down San Joaquin County’s 4-H clubs, according to Emma Fete, Ph.D., the county’s 4-H Youth Development Advisor, who said, “Club leaders and families are very interested in getting 4-H back to being a lot more like it used to be.”

She said all involved are working hard to restore clubs to normal rather than remain in the virtual world any longer than necessary. “4-H is very much an in-person, unity-based program and without summer camp and with after school programs on hold it was difficult, very challenging for volunteers and project leaders to do virtual versions of their projects and other activities.”

However, once the vagaries of the pandemic were explored more fully, Fete said, “The volunteers were actually able to do good creative work within the pandemic’s parameters.”

San Joaquin County 4-H currently has 13 active 4-H clubs scattered throughout the county with 596 youth enrolled in the program for the 2020-2021 year.

“However, we did see a decline in enrollment due to COVID-19,” said Alyssa High, University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE) 4-H Youth Program Representative. “We do have 173 wonderful adult volunteers who help our youth grow their knowledge and leadership skill in our 4-H community.”

She also explained that “all of our members and adult volunteers did their best with the circumstances we were under with COVID-19.”

Fete pointed out that it was “very challenging creating virtual stuff” so that as many activities as possible could continue under the COVID mandates. But, she said, “Some things just weren’t able to happen.”

“The main skill we all needed to remember is that we all need patience and a little grace as things changed and we realized the situation wasn’t as dire as we’d thought,” Fete explained. “We developed the attitude that whatever was needed, we’d make it happen.”

According to High, “Everyone had to adjust to switching the in-person programming to a virtual platform and our youth and adult leaders accepted the challenge and navigated through.”

Fete observed that a shift in attitude would be necessary when “COVID was going on after 2020’s summer and it became obvious that it would be here for a while.” The vagaries of using technology instead of person-to-person communication for the program’s workshops via methods like Zoom to inform as many as possible was indeed a challenge, but it kept the program going.

“Kids are a bit more tech savvy than we might give them credit for and that helped overall,” Fete said. But, some families don’t have internet access and that presented a problem. “There was a lot of discussion regarding how to deal with this and we did the best we could,” Fete explained.

The local club leaders along with state and national 4-H leaders held meetings to exchange information and ideas about ways to handle the overall pandemic situation.

Maintaining some degree of normalcy despite not having returned to it, was important. “We did host our Food Fiesta and Presentation Day county event virtually and a lot of youth still participated even when we couldn’t be together,” High said.

Of course, the importance of the AgFest experience was not lost on the parents and leaders of 4-H clubs in the county and they were the driving force in making that experience available to their children.

“Our 4-H program is looking forward to the future in growing our community and being able to resume in-person activities,” High said.