4-H Fix: Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

By Ron Drum, Statewide 4-H Program Professional/Associate Director 4-H Resource Development

Were you a 4-H Member? UMaine 4-H wants to hear your story. Please take a moment to fill out our short form and Tell Us Your Story!

No, this blog post isn’t done, but you are correct that this is how I usually end my 4-H Fix posts! BTW, thanks for knowing that! It means you’ve been reading them all the way through to the end! 🙂

So whatsup with that question?

In an effort to be totally transparent, I’ll tell you! Obviously, we want to hear from former 4-H’ers, YOU, our 4‑H ALUMNI.

OK, wait a moment. I don’t know about you but, frankly, this whole business about what version of this word to use and when to use it is, for me at least, a tad overwhelming; confusing to say the least. Is it alum, alums, alumni, alumnae, you say po-TA-to, I’ll say po-TAH-to; yikes, just what IS right? Latin. SMH.

So I looked up “alumni” in the online Merriam-Webster’s Learner’s Dictionary. Here is what I found:

Full Definition of alumnus

plural alumni

1: a person who has attended or has graduated from a particular school, college, or university

2: a person who is a former member, employee, contributor, or inmate

“INMATE”!? Even so, I guess former 4-H’ers fall under #2. Then it goes on to say:

Many people are comfortable using the word alumni to refer to someone who was a student of a particular school. However, others feel quite strongly that this is an error and that the following forms should be used: alumnus (for one male), alumni (for multiple males, or for a mix of males and females), alumna (for one female), and alumnae (for multiple females). The shortened form alum and its plural form alums began to be used in the 19th Century. Initially, alum was widely viewed as highly colloquial or informal, but is increasing in use as a gender-neutral alternative.

Ahhh. “Gender neutral alternative.” I like that. That means I don’t have to remember which version to use, -ni or -na or ‑nae or -nus. Just “alum” or, if there are many, “alums.” Simple. Yes. I like that. Besides, it’s been used since the 19th Century and I had ancestors in the 19th Century and who wants to argue with ANCESTORS? Not ME! Alum(s) it is!

So back to the question at hand. We (4-H) really haven’t done a very good job over the years of keeping track of our (Ready?) ALUMS! — that is, our 4-H members after they left 4‑H. Reality is that a very few, but only a few, states have! But we’ve seen the error of our ways. We want to reconnect with our ALUMS. There is even a national push to reconnect with former 4-H’ers. It started last year with a national web page where you can register as a 4-H Alum and there is even a national spokesperson to encourage you to do so (Former Georgia 4-H Member and now Country Music Icon Jennifer Nettles)

We (UMaine 4-H) do also, well, at least we have the place to register! (Tell Us Your Story!)

And if you were a 4-H Member in a state other than Maine, I bet that state has a place where you can register because they want to hear from you as well!

NOW there is even a NATIONAL CONTEST you can “enter” that will help you identify yourself as a 4-H alum! Here is how it works:

4-H alums from across the nation are being asked to raise their hands to support the next generation of true leaders. Every alum’s raised hand is a vote towards a $20,000 award for the 4-H state with the most alum hands raised. So if Maine gets enough hands raised, Maine 4-H will get the 20 grand!

Want to “Raise Your Hand” for Maine? Here is what to do:

  1. Raise Your Hand: Go to 4-H.org/RaiseYourHand to show your pride as a 4-H alum and vote for MAINE!
  1. It’s all about MAINE: Raising your hand is a vote towards a $20,000 award for the state with the most alums’ hands raised, which, in this case, will be MAINE! Second place gets $10,000 and third place gets $5,000.
  1. Pay it Forward: Tweet, post and share your #4HGrown experience or support and tag fellow alums asking them to raise their hands for MAINE (or, in a show of good sportsmanship, for their state if not MAINE 🙂 ) at 4-H.org/RaiseYourHand.

So why? What’s all the ruckus about?

Well, three things actually. Money is one of them. Truth be told, if you tell us you were once a 4-H member, someone, like me, is probably going to ask you to donate money to help support the 4-H program of today. If you went to the National 4-H Alumni web page noted earlier, you probably noticed a large, orange “flag” in the upper right corner of the page that included one word: DONATE.

screen shot of National 4-H Alumni website

The theory is that someone who falls into the “Alum” category, probably has a job or perhaps has reached the age of retirement, so, the theory continues, has the ability to offer financial support to the program that helped shape his or her life. And, knowing what it has done for you, who wouldn’t want to support it so it (4-H, that is) can do for the young people of today the same as it did for you “back in the day”? Right?

And, BTW, if you want to do that, to donate to UMaine 4-H, here is how: Support UMaine 4-H.

The second reason we are seeking to reconnect is potential growth of the volunteer work-force. Yes, “Hands to Larger Service” lives on past your 4-H Membership years! The 4-H Program exists because so many good people step forward, volunteering to “make the best better.” I’ve often said that of all the elements that are in place that allow us to implement 4-H (4-H Curriculum, County 4-H Staff, State 4-H Staff, National 4-H Staff, etc), there is only one that, if removed, would cause 4-H to cease to be, almost instantly — the Volunteers.

It is how many ALUMS “donate” to the program. Who better than someone who has been through the program to show the members of today “the ropes”? You know what 4-H did for you and how it was done. You care deeply for the children of today and the future they will make. So you ensure that 4-H will be there to help shape that future in a positive way by giving your time and energy to 4-H for the sake of the young people of your community! Thank you.

However, sometimes people don’t volunteer until they are asked, even former 4-H’ers, and we can’t ask you if we don’t know where you are.

Well, that makes two reasons for all the “alum ruckus,” but I said “three.” I believe there is a third one and I believe it is critical to the future of 4-H; if not more so than the others, certainly at least as much. In a word: credibility.

You may have noticed that 4-H gets questioned a lot these days. There are a number of high-quality youth serving programs now in existence so the question is often asked, especially since 4-H receives some of its support from public sources (NIFA, USDA; state and local governments), isn’t 4‑H just a duplication of services?

Well, anyone who has experienced 4-H knows that 4-H is not the same as any of the privately supported youth organizations. The 4-H program is an educational experience provided by each state’s Land-grant University; indeed, often called “your first LGU course!” Research has even shown that 4‑H programs offer the best means through which to teach positive youth development (PYD).

But it is the same old story. You can have all the research that is possible to have but until a person actually sees real life results, it’s all just words. In the early days, Extension needed to create demonstration farms to prove the new, research-based farming methods actually worked so, likewise, 4-H needs to demonstrate that what it says about its ability to teach PYD is true, too!

And how do you do that? Well, it certainly shows in the program’s products: 4-H ALUMS! In an odd way of looking at it, 4-H Alums are 4-H’s demonstration farms!

4-H needs YOU to show the world what 4-H did for you so they can see what 4-H can do for the world! You give 4-H its credibility!

Judy Smith sorts through card catalog
Franklin County Extension’s Judy Smith reviews her collection of 4-H member enrollment cards dating back to the very early days of 4-H in Franklin County.

So we make lists of alums and seek more to add (for a national list of “distinguished” 4-H alums, visit 4-H Distinguished Alumni. Hmm. For some reason they didn’t include me, I see, but it’s still a good list, I guess. 🙂

We raise up and honor our alums for the world to see and we tell our alums’ stories like those of Jennifer Nettles or Facebook’s Andrew Bozman or Food Channel’s Anne Burrell or…

And we tell YOUR stories! Some that have appeared in the 4-H Fix already include:

And just WAIT until you see some of the alum stories that will be in future 4-H Fixes!

Our 4-H Alums walked the 4-H path before us and proved themselves to be giants given what they achieved. By putting the spotlight on these giants we can show the world what 4-H can mean in a child’s life and, in turn, the life of our country, world, and future.

We in 4-H today, truly do stand on the shoulders of giants — our alums — YOU! Which brings me, then, to my final question for this post:

Were you a 4-H Member?

4-H emblemUMaine 4-H wants to hear your story. Please take a moment to fill out our short form and Tell Us Your Story! And don’t forget! Go to 4-H.org/RaiseYourHand to vote for MAINE and show your pride as a MAINE 4-H alum!

Speaking of putting 4-H Alums in the spotlight, return to The 4-H Fix on April 21 to read about Maine 4-H Alum Katherine Watier Ong, in the first of a new series we are calling “Where are they now?”

Click here to learn how to support UMaine 4-H.

University of Maine Cooperative Extension conducts the state’s most successful out-of-school youth educational program through 4-H, a positive youth development program that has been empowering young people in Maine to reach their full potential since 1913.