Rogan Tokach of Abilene, Kansas, started beekeeping as a 4-H project. In his first year of beekeeping, he was able to get five gallons of honey.
“For two hives, and especially for your first year, that’s pretty good,” he said.
Tokach enjoys being a 4-H member, because he has the opportunity to learn leadership skills and interact with other youth. He wanted to get more people interested in 4-H, so he decided to start a 4-H SPIN club in the last year that focused on beekeeping. Now, he has a handful of his peers working alongside him to grow the number of hives and honey.
SPIN stands for “special interest.” What’s unique about 4-H SPIN clubs is they last a shorter amount of time within a year – about six weeks – compared to participating for a full year in a 4-H community club.
The 4-H SPIN clubs are among the many reasons why more young people have been touched by Kansas 4-H in the last year, said Barbara Stone, Kansas 4-H state program leader. In fact, in 2014-2015, a total of 86,719 youth participated in Kansas 4-H programs or projects. This is an increase of 26,050 participants from 2013-2014, which totaled 60,669.
“This increase is a reflection of the total Kansas 4-H staff’s efforts to provide support to extension professionals in the field and encourage innovation so that we can provide quality youth development programs across the state,” Stone said.
Not only have more participants benefited from Kansas 4-H activities, programming and events in the last year, the number of youth and adult volunteers has also gone up from about 8,000 to 11,000, she said.
Sarah Keatley, Kansas 4-H events coordinator, said statewide staff and volunteers work together to reach children through community clubs, in addition to new ways that are constantly evolving.
“There are several avenues we use to reach youth, whether that is community clubs, after-school programming, camping, SPIN clubs, project clubs or school enrichment,” Keatley said. “The community club model is valued and works for some people but maybe not others. These short-term experiences might fit in more with their lifestyle.”
SPIN clubs and other 4-H outreach efforts have sprung up across Kansas, particularly in the last four years, according to Stone. For example, the number of SPIN clubs statewide has gone from 10 clubs in 2012-2013 to 54 total clubs in 2014-2015. Members have grown from 173 in 2012-2013 to 913 in 2014-2015.
Other outreach efforts are also expanding. The Wildcat Extension District, located in southeast Kansas, has hosted back-to-school sessions in area schools, where students learned about activities and projects available through 4-H. School enrichment across the state could include anything from chick embryology, or hatching chicks in classrooms, to STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) programming.
Edwards County 4-H ambassadors have hosted day camps for youth who are not current 4-H members and implemented 4-H learning materials. Members and volunteers from Johnson and Ford counties have offered new family orientation sessions, where children could participate in fun activities while parents learned more about the 4-H program.
These are just a few of the many examples where local 4-H enthusiasts are finding ways to reach more youth in Kansas, Keatley said.
Providing positive experiences
Although many new participants are touched briefly by Kansas 4-H through SPIN clubs and after-school programs, many still learn what 4-H means by actively stating the 4-H pledge and taking part in various service elements, Stone said.
Tokach and his beekeeping SPIN club provide one example of service, the “Honey for Heifer” project (https://www.facebook.com/Honey-for-Heifer-407518522709017/). Those who donate $10 receive a 1-pound jar of honey. For every $30 Tokach collects, he can buy a hive of bees for Heifer International (http://www.heifer.org/), a charity that helps end hunger and poverty. These bees help provide food and income for people in Central America.
To watch a video featuring Tokach and his beekeeping SPIN club, visit the K-State Research and Extension YouTube page (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=amgREDjDjc4).
Kansas 4-H staff members have found that many youth who participate in SPIN clubs, after-school programs or other short-term opportunities eventually want to join a community club and participate in year-long 4-H activities. To learn more about Kansas 4-H, and find out how to become involved, visit your local extension office or go online to http://www.kansas4-h.org.