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4-H Through the Generations: A Intergenerational Celebration of Pennsylvania 4-H’S Centennial YEAR

Posted: March 19, 2012

An intergenerational session called, “4-H through the Generations” began with a pre-banquet dinner panel presentation. The five panelists, ranging in age from 13 to 80, provided brief summaries and highlights from their own 4-H experiences.
Photo from left to right: Thomas Neuman, William Ankrum, Marcia Beppler, and Bernard Devlin

Photo from left to right: Thomas Neuman, William Ankrum, Marcia Beppler, and Bernard Devlin

By Matt Kaplan, Professor, Intergenerational Programs and Aging, Penn State University

In celebration of 2012, PA 4-H’s Centennial year, the State 4-H Leadership Conference (for 4-H youth) and the 4-H Leaders Forum (for adult volunteers) were merged into a single event this year.

An intergenerational session called, “4-H through the Generations” began with a pre-banquet dinner panel presentation. The five panelists, ranging in age from 13 to 80, provided brief summaries and highlights from their own 4-H experiences. The panelists included: Marcia Beppler (80 year old retired state program leader), Bryan Dickinson (Lawrence County 4-H/youth development educator), Alyssa Dietrich (Collegiate 4-H member–university upper classman), Dakota Grove (4-H member, also a university under classman), and Emily Allegar (a younger 4-H member in Centre County).

Panel presentations were followed by small, mixed-age group discussions. With 10 people per table conversation, 440 participants (360 were youth and 80 adults) shared their views about 4-H’s past, present and future.

Participants noted how 4-H has changed in terms of the number and variety of projects and in minor structural changes in methods of delivery such as in the way clubs operate and the technological tools that are used. When discussing ways in which 4-H has not changed, they were more likely to emphasize fundamental values and goals of the 4-H program. The organizational picture that emerged was one of an organization that has experienced some changes in program delivery systems, such as in response to advances in technology, yet not in the underlying values and goals of the organization.

Panelists and discussion group participants frequently alluded to 4-H’s unfaltering emphasis on education, leadership development, and community service. For example, Marcia Beppler, retired state program leader and member of the panel, emphasized education as an integral element of the 4-H model: “I know that 4-H is based upon sound educational principals. And whatever convulsions 4-H goes through for whatever reason, 4-H can be so confident that it’s on a good educational track.”

Alyssa Dietrich, the Collegiate 4-H member of the panel, after noting how her involvement in 4-H was framed by agriculture-oriented interests and pursuits, emphasized the importance of community engagement: “4-H is more than just about competing and showing your cattle. It’s about being involved too in the community… Getting involved in your community is how everyone learns together. And that’s an important part of being a good citizen and a good 4-Her.”

Several 4-H youth who felt inspired by Marcia Beppler’s presentation requested that she pose with them in a photo (see above). 4-H member Bernard Devlin later commented to one of the members of the event planning team, “While we were listening to her speech, we were very interested in what she had to say about 4-H throughout the generations. Also, she spoke about how 4-H has grown since she was young, and has moved from just the farms to include education in the cities. I found that part of the speech very interesting.”

Considering the positive feelings and good ideas generated from this centennial celebration, I am hopeful that 4-H staff, volunteers, and members will plan additional intergenerational discussions about current conditions, challenges, and opportunities for PA 4-H.

4-H Through the Generations session planning committee members: Matt Kaplan, Nina Redding (Penn State Extension District Director; panel facilitator), Mya Rushton (4-H Program Development Specialist), Jan Scholl (Associate Professor, 4-H, Family and Consumer Science Programs), and Ben Weikert (Master’s student; Department of Agricultural Economics, Sociology, and Education)