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Making the best better: Local youth still pledge their heads, hearts, hands and health to 4-H

Today’s teenagers are more busy than their parents were when they were young.

Fewer kids are growing up with an interest in agriculture.

Funding for the University of Illinois Extension has dipped, and county units have consolidated.

All might be reasons for a commensurate decline in the number of kids participating in 4-H clubs and programs. So is that what’s happening locally?

No, says Janice McCoy.

She’s the county Extension director for the Carroll, Lee and Whiteside counties unit. McCoy said the number of kids involved in 4-H has remained steady for the past 5 to 10 years. Today, she said, there are about 600 enrolled members in 4-H in the three counties who participate regularly in the organization. McCoy said there are probably another 1,000 or so youths in the three counties who are involved with 4-H in some way.

One of those busy teenagers who manage to also be active 4-H’ers is Mitch Clodfelter, 17, of Sterling. He’s been able to stick with the organization for at least 9 years, he said.

He plays football, competes in track and participates in numerous clubs through school. But Clodfelter said he has wanted to focus on what will help him most after he graduates, and 4-H has taught him valuable communication and leadership skills.

“4-H is probably what’s going to help me the most when I get out of high school,” he said.

Clodfelter’s parents got him involved in 4-H, and his sister, Meghan, 20, was in the organization ahead of him. Clodfelter said he found a lot of peers who were older than him who served as role models and great examples of why to stay in 4-H.

He said he devotes between 5 and 15 hours a month to 4-H. He’s president of the Genessee Hillbillies 4-H club, has been a counselor at 4-H camp the past couple of years, and has been part of the 4-H Federation for Whiteside County.

That he stuck with 4-H isn’t unusual, Clodfelter said. In fact, he said, most kids are in the organization for the long haul. Younger kids stay in 4-H to be with their friends, he said, and older kids remain because the time and effort put in sharpens skills that will be beneficial in “real life” after college.

Megan Geiger, 18, of Sterling, has stayed with 4-H for about 13 years because she has always enjoyed it and has made friends.

The recent high school graduate said she had been involved with track, cross country and some volleyball while in high school. She also had a part-time job that ranged from 15 to 25 hours per week of work. But she still found time for 4-H, and this past year she was the vice president for the Genesee Hillbillies. She spent about 2 hours per month of work with 4-H, she said.

Geiger thinks more kids should get involved with 4-H, as there are opportunities for volunteer work and scholarships.

Erin Stichter, 17, of Erie, has been involved for 11 years.

Being part of the organization has given her the opportunity to meet new people and build relationships with others in 4-H. She was part of a group that went to the National 4-H Congress in Atlanta, Georgia. The experience gave her the chance to meet members from across the nation who taught her about leadership and team development.

She’s part of the Fenton Wizards and Federation for Whiteside County. She spends about 10 hours per month on 4-H, she said.

Outside of the organization, Stichter is busy with cross country, student council, National Honor Society, involvement with her church – – Erie United Methodist Church – and babysitting.

She said she finds time for 4-H because it’s relaxing and provides her an outlet to do things she likes.

There are 354 members in Ogle County. That’s down from about 400 in 2007, said Jodi Baumgartner, 4-H program coordinator for University of Illinois Extension in Ogle, Boone and DeKalb counties.

The slight decrease is probably the result of kids being busy with other activities, Baumgartner said. But the kids who get involved, in stay, love the program and the friends they make along the way, she said.

“They want to give back even when they’re gone."


4-H is the nation’s largest youth development organization, and its goal is to assist young people and their families get skills needed to be proactive members of their communities. It's motto: "To make the best better."

There are almost 200,000 members each year who participate in Illinois 4-H programming. The organization is open to ages 5 to 18.

The 4-H pledge

I pledge My Head to clearer thinking

My Heart to greater loyalty

My Hands to larger service

My Health to better living

For my club, my community, my country and my world.

Get involved

Interested in volunteering with 4-H or learning more?

Janice McCoy is the county Extension director for Carroll, Lee and Whiteside counties for the University of Illinois Extension.

She can be reached at 815-632-3611 and

More information can be found at

Jodi Baumgartner is the 4-H program coordinator for the University of Illinois Extension for Ogle, Boone and DeKalb counties.

She can be reached at 815-732-2191 and

More information can be found at

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