By Seth Truscott, College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences
Youth become leaders when they learn by doing. That’s the essence of 4‑H, and across its 115‑year history in Washington, it has never changed.
But for every cow, rabbit or sheep, there’s now a science experiment, adventure camp, or mentorship teaching younger children about healthy choices.
“This is today’s 4‑H,” says Nancy Deringer, the new state leader of Washington 4‑H.
Taking the reins January 16, Deringer leads Washington State University Extension faculty and volunteers delivering 4‑H programs to thousands of youth and hundreds of clubs across Washington’s 39 counties and several tribal programs.
Her top priority: Reaching more children and teens from underserved areas of Washington, including the state’s urban areas. That means shedding 4‑H’s image as an exclusively agricultural club, while staying true to its “Head, Heart, Hands and Health” ideals.
In Washington, Deringer will foster 4‑H’s traditional rural communities, while connecting with cities, suburbs and rural regions where young people may not feel part of 4‑H because they don’t raise animals or live on a farm.
“Here in our state, thousands of 4‑H kids never handle a sheep or a pig — they’re launching rockets, preparing for college or learning how to be good citizens,” she said.
She points to programs like Colville Reservation 4‑H, where club members have taken part in National Youth Science Day every autumn for the past 10 years — more than any other club in the state — learning about electricity, mapping and rocketry.
“We’re building on the traditional 4‑H experience,” she added. “4‑H really changes lives.”
4‑H youth are twice as likely to participate in STEM activities and make healthier choices, and four times more likely to be involved in their communities, a national study has found. Girls in 4‑H are three times as likely to take part in science programs, compared with other activities.
“As I meet with volunteers, parents and kids, I’m listening and learning what our priorities should be,” Deringer said. “I’ve seen so much passion from our members and our excellent volunteers, and I want to build on that.”
While supporting 4‑H faculty and building new partnerships with organizations that work with youth and families, Deringer seeks to increase inclusivity toward all young people, including LGBTQ, multicultural youth, and young people with differing abilities.
“I want to ensure all kids have a sense of belonging, and know that 4‑H is a safe place to be,” she said. “Our ultimate goal is for all youth to thrive.”
Deringer encourages families to contact their local Extension office to learn more about the many different clubs and activities that support their child’s growth.
“There are many ways to be part of 4‑H and develop your potential,” she said. “4‑H is for everyone.”
Nancy Deringer, State Program Leader, 4‑H Youth Development, (509) 358-7788, firstname.lastname@example.org