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A passion for 4-H

By Staff | Oct 7, 2011

Alicia Schmitt shows a photo of her great-great-grandmother with the 4-H club she started in Floyd County that is active yet today.

MASON CITY – Alicia Schmitt is passionate about 4-H.

She should be. She’s a fifth-generation 4-H’er, as well as county youth coordinator for Cerro Gordo County, working out of the extension office in Mason City.

Her job is to work with the county’s 4-H clubs.

Her 4-H background includes her being the fifth generation to be a member of a club organized by her great-great-grandmother, Demarice Katcher.

That club is called the Colwell Celebrities in neighboring Floyd County, which remains active today.

When explaining the advantages of the 4-H program, Schmitt refers to a survey published by Iowa State University in 2008. It asked 508 4-H members to compare the skills they learned in 4-H to what they knew before entering the program.

The study wanted to measure changes in skills and practices in the areas of citizenship, leadership and communications.

In citizenship, 80.1 percent of those participating in the survey said their skill increased and 73.5 percent said their practices improved.

In leadership, 67.4 percent of the participants said their skill increased and 71.5 percent reported improved practices.

In communications, 73.1 percent said their skill increased and 71.5 percent said their practices improved because of 4-H involvement.

The study also showed that 4-H meets four basic developmental needs of belonging, mastery, generosity and independence.

4-H members develop characteristics of being “competent, caring, contributing, confident, connected, and capable” individuals, the survey said.

The 4-H program has been a part of kids growing up in Iowa for 110 years and Schmitt said the strength of the Iowa 4-H program is due to “more power because of the numbers of staff.”

A history of the 4-H program in Cerro Gordo County was compiled in 2004 by Wendy Bonner and then Extension director Jim Kuhlman

They were able to trace the county’s beginnings to 1916 when a boys club with six members was formed by the Retail Merchants Association of Mason City, cooperative elevator movement leaders and purebred livestock breeders.

In 1923 the boys club was officially organized and a girls club was started in 1924.

The boys club was a baby beef club in the beginning with 14 members and in later years a market litter club was started for hogs.

The girls club started from the Women’s Work Club who “decided to teach advanced clothing.” They drew up an outline with the purpose to develop a four-square girl, teach better home practices and encourage better health habits.

Schmitt said the purpose of encouraging better health habits remains in place today as part of the 4-H program. All 4-H members today have the mission of “science, healthy living and citizenship/leadership,” she said.

In a sign of the times, one of the goals back then was “to have at least 50 percent of our club members wearing approved shoes by Oct. 1.”

The girls 4-H clubs in Cerro Gordo County were 12 in number with a membership of 200 girls when organized. It was reported that 125 of them “were wearing approved shoes.”

In the beginning the Cerro Gordo County 4-H program centered on animals according to the history assembled by Bonner and Kuhlman.

“The program centers on the development of the youths and the projects are the means to the end,” said the history article.

Livestock projects included the traditional cattle, hog and sheep; and now include horses, dogs, poultry and rabbits.

Other popular program areas include photography and visual arts, Schmitt said.

Contact Clayton Rye at crye@wctatel.net.

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