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 that doesn’t mean it hasn’t evolved. For every cow, rabbit or sheep raised by a 4-H member, 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 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.
Building on tradition
4-H is delivered in Washington by WSU Extension. It’s part of a network of hundreds of land-grant universities serving more than 6 million children through 4-H, nationwide.
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 4-H Youth Robotics and Colville Reservation Extension, where the local 4-H club has 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.”
Benefits for kids
4-H youth are twice as likely to participate in STEM activities and make healthier choices, and four times more likely to be involved and give back to their communities, a national study has found. Girls in 4-H are three times as likely to take part in science programs, compared to girls in other out-of-school activities.
A 4-H alumna, Deringer knows firsthand how the program can change youth and families for the better. For the past decade, she led a national 4-H effort to help vulnerable children stay in school and make healthy life choices.
Previously a professor at the University of Idaho’s School of Family and Consumer Sciences, Deringer doubled as a national coach for the USDA’s Children, Youth and Families At Risk grant program. Now based in Spokane’s WSU Extension office, she will continue to coach, supporting Extension programs for at-risk youth.
In her first month on the job, she met teen advisory board members and visited 4-H’s Know Your Government camp in Olympia, where middle and high school students learn how to be active, informed citizens.
“As I meet with volunteers, parents and kids, I’m listening and learning what our priorities should be,” she said. “I’ve seen so much passion from our members and our excellent volunteers, and I want to build on that.”
A place for all
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.
Whether it’s designing a robot, learning to sew, raising a pet or farm animal, or helping teach younger kids, “there are many ways to be part of 4-H and develop your potential,” she said. “4-H is for everyone. We are much more than you might expect.”
- Contact Nancy Deringer, State Program Leader, 4-H Youth Development, at (509) 358-7788, firstname.lastname@example.org