Imagine someone started a youth program for children ages 7-18 and any child could join and work on projects geared to their interests, age level and ability. Suppose that program successfully worked again and again over the span of a century to help young people build self-confidence, develop healthy habits, and to care about others in their community. What if parents didn’t have to pay for their children to join?

Well, there is a program just like that and it’s called 4-H.

Being involved with 4-H in Sumner County was a formative experience for me. Having grown up on a farm in Portland, it certainly wasn’t my first introduction to agriculture, but it did give me an avenue to learn about civic responsibility, leadership and service to others. There’s so much work that goes into raising and showing an animal, growing food, preparing for a speech or working on a project with peers. To say children “learn by doing” in 4-H is an understatement.

4-H develops new skills but also teaches young people critical thinking. They learn through hands-on experiences how to identify, evaluate and problem-solve through collaboration.

Preparing for competitions and county fairs is hard work, but also fun. These experiences are some of my best memories and helped me cultivate long-lasting friendships beyond my community. Through 4-H, I gained valuable leadership skills, new hobbies, and a lifelong passion to “make the best better.”

Sadly, many of our kids today are lacking exposure and connection to the natural world many of us enjoyed just a generation ago before the digital age. Being involved with 4-H can help foster a love for the outdoors by providing experiences in nature that are important for a child’s healthy development.

It’s worth noting, 4-H is not just for farm kids. There are many real-world learning opportunities to match every child’s diverse interests whether that be geared toward science, math, entrepreneurship, design, wellness, communication and so much more. These programs support Tennessee’s STEM education objectives.

In Tennessee, we are fortunate to have wonderful 4-H programs through a cooperative effort between the University of Tennessee and Tennessee State University Extension offices. These programs are funded with a combination of local, state and federal dollars as well as private donations. It takes an army of dedicated 4-H professionals, parents and community volunteers willing to share their time and expertise for numerous clubs, after-school activities and camps. With some modifications due to the coronavirus pandemic, these programs are still fully operating as scheduled here in Sumner County.

Today, I’m proud to continue these traditions with my children. It’s rewarding to see the excitement on their faces when they overcome a challenge or experience the joy of a job well done.

Together, the four H’s symbolize the development of the head, to think, plan, and reason; the heart, to care for others, good citizenship and a positive attitude; the hands, to be helpful; and health, to develop healthy habits. These are values that build a strong foundation for life.

I am deeply invested in making Tennessee a place where we all have the best opportunity to prosper. I’m proud to support our local 4-H and I would encourage anyone with children to seek out opportunities available at any Extension Office throughout Tennessee.

I thank you for the privilege to serve as your voice in Nashville. I look forward to continuing our work together, building stronger communities for the next generation of Tennesseans.

William Lamberth is the House Majority Leader for the 112th General Assembly. He is a member of several House committees including Finance, Ways, and Means, Government Operations, Criminal Justice and Calendar & Rules. Lamberth lives in Portland and represents Tennessee House District 44, which includes part of Sumner County.

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