Say this about the 4-H youth development program in Kansas: it’s resilient.
The thousands of 4-H members, volunteers and supporters proved as much the past couple months as the COVID-19 pandemic ground all of their face-to-face programs to a halt.
Instead of shriveling up during the pandemic, the organization decided to stand up. Led by the Kansas 4-H Foundation, they built a COVID-19 4-H Resilience Fund that recently topped $100,000 in donations.
“Really, the idea of the resilience fund came out of the great work that 4-H members were doing in being resilient in this time,” said Jake Worcester, the president and CEO of the Kansas 4-H Foundation. “They were finding creative ways to connect. They were doing project work in different ways than they ever had. And yet at the same time, it was obvious that additional resources were going to be needed.”
The Kansas 4-H Foundation is the non-profit fundraising arm of the state’s largest youth development program. Worcester said that when COVID-19 forced a shutdown of schools, businesses and more, donors wanted to help the 4-H program.
Four trustees on the Kansas 4-H Foundation board together donated $50,000, which was then used as a matching fund for additional donations. By June, Worcester said the general public’s donations had also reached $50,000.
“We wanted to use this as an opportunity to give our donors an opportunity to help and contribute toward the cost of 4-H programs,” he said. “But we also wanted to identify ways that we could develop additional resources that not only help in the immediate response, but build resilience in the organization so that in the future as we encounter things we don’t even know about yet, hopefully we’re better prepared and resilient as an organization, not just as individuals.”
So far, Worcester said, half of the funds that have been distributed have gone directly to support 4-H programs, and the other half to support the Rock Springs 4-H ranch south of Junction City.
“This summer is the first time in 75 years that we are not having camp at Rock Springs,” Worcester said. “That’s a significant impact from an operational standpoint, but we’re also looking at the missed opportunity to bring young people together from across the state and give them the experience of camp that you can’t have anywhere else.”
In June, 4-H members were encouraged to build their own camping experience from home. One program provided weekly activities on the 4-H Facebook page, and the annual 4-H Campference program moved to an online format.
Other 4-H programs are receiving support to develop virtual opportunities. In some areas, the traditional county fair may be different or possibly cancelled, which leaves local extension agents to develop ways in which youth can still demonstrate their projects.
“When we think about what makes 4-H as a program resilient, what we identified in that process was the ability to adapt, the ability to take a challenge and find a way to persevere,” Worcester said. “4-H members have been doing that for 115 years. It’s kind of at the heart of 4-H, this idea that we look at a problem and we discover together how to solve it. We put caring adults together with youth and learn together so we can solve problems.”
Worcester hopes that what the state’s 4-H program is learning during this time will enhance face-to-face programs in the future. It will also likely strengthen the organization for future challenges.
“I think that is the key to what we’re trying to do through this fund: build resilience,” he said. “We certainly anticipate that some day there will be another challenge that we haven’t even thought of yet. If we can build adaptability and resilience into our programming, we’ll be more prepared when that eventual challenge surfaces.”
For more information on the Kansas 4-H Foundation or to make a donation to the COVID-19 4-H Resilience Fund, visit www.kansas4hfoundation.org or call 785-532-5881.