Tuesday, Jun 27, 2017

Harvard is hub for 4-H clubs

Milk Center.JPG
Milk Center 4-H ran Santa’s Snack Shoppe Dec. 5 at Christmas in Harvard. HML photo by Jay Schulz

Since its inception more than 100 years ago, 4-H has helped shape the lives of many young people. It is now the country’s largest youth development organization. According to the 4-H website, its main goal is to help young people and their families gain the skills needed to be proactive forces in their communities and develop ideas for a more innovative economy.

There are 4-H groups in every state across the nation, with each group bringing something valuable to the lives of its members. Members of 4-H range in age from 8 to 19.

McHenry County 4-H Program Coordinator Janine Heidtke, a Woodstock resident and 4-H alumni from the McHenry County Community Builders 4-H Club, said she works with after-school programs to bring the 4-H curriculum into area schools.

“I truly enjoy working with [the young people] and hearing what they want to do in the 4-H program,” she said. “In the five years that I have been in the position, we have grown from 390 youth to over 900.”

The organization is just as important to young people today as it was 100 years ago. It is still changing lives in McHenry County as it has for more than 80 years. Harvard is a hub for 4-H activity and offers several clubs for young people. A few of them include the Milk Center, New Wave and Harvard Prairie Toppers.

Milk Center

Meets at 6:30 p.m. the second Monday of every month at the Alden Township Building, 8515 Alden Road, Harvard.

The Milk Center club was created in 1958 by Jake and Bill Olbrich. In 1988, the club grew so quickly that it was split into several additional clubs.

Dawn Bihlmaier, present Milk Center leader, took over when former leader Sue Dietz retired. Bihlmaier said the club members in earlier years helped with putting together community window displays, worked with baseball groups and participated in club tours. Members still are actively involved in the community and engage in activities such as collecting food for the food pantry or visiting area retirement homes.

“We still continue the traditions that have been in the club for many years,” Bihlmaier said. “4-H members [in recent years] have leaped forward to promote 4-H and agricultural awareness by organizing and instructing [events such as] a rabbit clinic, goat clinic and gardening clinic. We also work with Tractor Supply, teach seminars and use animals to promote agricultural awareness.”

Additionally, the center has worked with the Harvard Events Committee and organized a number of fundraisers to benefit area charities and nonprofit groups.

“Members really enjoy the opportunity to try new things and to be able to help the community,” Bihlmaier said. “The opportunities are endless. … 4-H helps [young people] find what their passions are. It also helps them become leaders and develop self-confidence to be able to tackle anything life throws at them.”

New Wave

Meets at noon the first Sunday of the month. For information regarding locations, call 815-245-4268.

Founded in 1988, the New Wave 4-H group primarily revolves around animals. Members raise and show livestock such as swine, beef, goats, rabbits and poultry. Club members also participate in non-livestock projects, such as cake decorating or learning photography.

Club leader Jessica Crone said she took on her position because she wanted to become more involved with the club, in part due to her daughters’ involvement.

“I know personally that my girls enjoy being part of [this club] and what it stands for,” she said.

The New Wave group, like other 4-H clubs, also participates in a number of community-related events. In the past, the group has undertaken activities such as delivering Christmas crafts and Easter baskets to the Harvard Retirement Center. “The residents love seeing the kids and enjoy the items they make,” Crone said. She added that she believes 4-H is still relevant and rewarding for children, despite societal changes over the years.

“4-H teaches children responsibility for everyday life,” she said. “[Our group] is not only about showing animals but also about teaching children how to become leaders, either for the community or for their future experiences.”

Harvard Prairie Toppers

Meets the third Tuesday of every month at St. Paul Lutheran Church, 1601 Garfield St., Harvard. For meeting time, call 815-943-7031.

The Harvard Prairie Toppers club formed in the 1950s. In the earlier days, members used to meet at farm homes throughout the area.

As an animal group, members of the Harvard Prairie Toppers primarily raise pigs and other farm animals.

Paula Weidner, group leader, said the club’s members are very active and regularly attend meetings.

“We [do things like] put on scavenger hunts for the local food pantry, bring treats to nursing homes and host a petting zoo at Harvard Milk Days,” she said. “We try to have a different focus each month. Kids need to get different kinds of exposure, and it’s important that [they] help with all aspects of a community. I think they need to learn they need to support the community,” she continued. “Leadership is a high priority, as is responsibility.”

Heidtke would agree with these sentiments. She believes that 4-H arms youth with many valuable tools and provides a positive environment in which they can grow to be the leaders of the future.

“I am humbled knowing that, when youth have gone through the 4-H program by setting goals for themselves and achieving these goals, they find success in starting their futures,” she said. “We have youth who have raised beef every year and sold at auctions, who have [gone on to open] their own businesses from the funds that were saved. We have youth who are now political representatives in Washington, and they thank 4-H for helping them overcome the fear of public speaking,” she continued. “We have costume designers who started in sewing and textiles … the list goes on and on. And the one thing that is similar – they were all in McHenry County 4-H.”

All 4-H clubs mentioned are actively recruiting members.