Happy One-Hundred!

Published 9:45 am Thursday, October 22, 2009

AHOSKIE — This is where it all began.

What was first planted here 100 years ago has now flourished into a statewide organization for youth.

On Tuesday, state and local officials gathered to partake in Hertford County 4-H Club’s centennial celebration at the old Ahoskie High School Gym.

The full circle was completed when the 4-H’ers gathered at the base of the historical marker on Academy Street for a photograph, the very spot the charter members of the Corn Club stood in 1954 to dedicate the plaque.

The marker states: “4-H Club, first in North Carolina, organized at Ahoskie in 1909 as the Corn Club. Beginning of present large organization of rural youth in state.

One century ago, the Corn Club for boys was created in Ahoskie. Canning clubs for girls soon followed and a few years later boys and girls were able to join clubs together. Some clubs were known as tomato clubs. Club projects focused on innovative farming practices and improved nutrition for families.

The Corn Club was the first agriculture-based youth organization that led to formation of 4-H clubs across North Carolina. The state level effort became a piece of the patch work making 4-H a well-known national and global organization.

From its rural roots, the club has grown to include young people from all walks of life, including those from urban and suburban areas, to enrich their lives in leadership, citizenship and life skills.

Today, the 4-H Club involves and encourages more than 6 million young people around the globe with 239,000 of those youth being from North Carolina.

Hertford County’s 4-H program is headed by 4-H Agent Tina Ruffin of the Cooperative Extension Office.

Hertford County 4-H’ers were joined by Hertford County Cooperative Extension personnel and Hertford County officials, Northeast District and 4-H State Council officers, State Associate Director of Cooperative Extension Marshall Stewart, State Representative Anne Mobley and Senator Ed Jones.

In addition to celebrating the 4-H Club’s centennial celebration, the establishment of an enhancement fund was announced by Cooperative Extension Northeast Regional Director of Development Jack Parker.

“You all are a few of the people that are making history in Hertford County because 100 years ago today, people decided to do something special with the youth in North Carolina,” said Reba Green-Holley, Interim Extension Director, to the audience. “And that was to start the Corn Club, which was the beginning of 4-H as you know it today.”

Holley said the founders of that club had a vision.

“They wanted to help people to be the best they could be and they felt that could be done through the development of youth,” she said.

Kendrell Green, Northeast District 4-H Vice President and La’Meshia Whittington, President of 4-H State Council, shared their thoughts on the 4-H Club and the milestone it had achieved.

“4-H has been a great part of my life,” said Green. “It has taught me (about) work, responsibility, respect and communication skills. …There is so much negativity in the media about today’s youth; I want young people to know there is an organization that lets youth be themselves while teaching them skills to be productive citizens.”

Whittington spoke of Hertford County’s pioneering Corn Club.

“You are the foundation in which we have built and grown from to now be over 239,000 youth strong and over 24,000 volunteers alike,” she said. “Through 4-H our careers and passions come alive and friendships form that create lifetime alliances.”

Hertford County Manager Loria Williams and Hertford County Commission Vice Chair Johnnie Farmer were also on hand to celebrate the organization’s centennial.

Williams noted she was honored and impressed to be in the presence of “such poised young adults” who had accomplished much with their school work and achievements through a program such as 4-H.

“There is something to be said about longevity, whether it’s longevity in life or longevity in a successful business,” she said. “Longevity is also about, in my opinion, a changing environment; being able to change and meet the needs of that changing environment. And over the last 100 years 4-H has done that well to meet the needs.”

Farmer congratulated the club on reaching 100 years. He said the centennial year of the 4-H Club comes in conjunction with Hertford County’s 250th Year “and we celebrate together.”

“Anything we can do to help young people better themselves is a better day of tomorrow in this great nation,” he said.

Farmer said he was involved in the organization when he was younger and that he would always remember those years.

“What you do in 4-H, whether it be camp or congress, you will remember it when you get to be older like me,” he said addressing the 4-H’ers. “I promise you all these experiences in 4-H, even the uncomfortable ones, will pay off to be used in your future. You will be a better person.”

Stewart also shared his thoughts on the Ahoskie roots of what was to become the 4-H Club across the state.

“That’s where it all began, people in agriculture were trying to get young people involved in something positive,” he said.

Stewart noted the urban and rural divide and how over the years 4-H was able to change and adapt. He credited the youth involved along with the club’s partners like Cooperative Extension, local and state governments and volunteers for the club’s longevity.

“Those of us who stand here today are because somebody before us had the foresight and vision to do something special…in this case it was 4-H,” he said.

Mobley and Jones offered their congratulations to the Hertford County 4-H Club.

“This is exciting, not only for 4-H, but Hertford County all around,” said Mobley. “It is certainly something to celebrate when you carry on a tradition years and years and years. And then it produces leaders like you see that spoke this afternoon.”

A bill was passed this year recognizing the organization’s 100th year.

Mobley presented a letter from Joe Hackney, Speaker of the House of Representatives, addressed to Holley. In the letter Hackney speaks of his own experience with the 4-H Club in Chatham County as a youngster.

Hackney acknowledged the roots of 4-H in Hertford County and how the club has progressed.

“Though your organization has a rural heritage, you have broadened your offerings so that you may provide children anywhere in the state with meaningful and useful activities,” the letter said. “Thank you for all you do and for what you stand for the 4-H’ers. Head, Heart, Hands and Health are as relevant today as they were 100 years ago.”

Jones spoke about the club’s start in the heritage of agriculture.

“The key point we want to talk about here is to not forget where you came from, but where your ancestors came from,” he said.

Jones noted the tradition of canning, cooking and producing your own food is slowly dying.

“That is what 4-H is about, trying to keep a heritage alive,” he said.

Those involved in the local 4-H program told the audience about their experience with the program.

Juanita Harris, with Davis Kids College, spoke about the 4-H program at the pre-school which began after staff training in 2008.

“Right now, what we’re doing is we have a garden and they’re raising squash,” she said. “We’ve had our garden for two seasons now; we grew tomatoes and cucumbers first.”

Harris said the students at the Kids College have a hand in planting, maintaining and harvesting the garden. A crop of cabbage served to be a fundraising event for the school. A worm-compost is the latest project to have come from the Kids College 4-H program.

“4-H has really been a world of difference (for us),” she said.

Perhaps the most candid testimony of the program came from Stephon Beamon. Beamon is a current Hertford County 4-H’er spoke about the organization’s effectiveness.

Beamon said he first got involved through the 4-H Support Our Students (SOS) After School Program.

“I became focused on my grades and it actually brought my grades up,” he said, crediting the program.

Since joining the 4-H Club, Beamon has been involved with such activities as the Hertford-Northampton Livestock Show and Sale and 4-H Congress.

“Being involved in 4-H has helped me make friends in the Northeast District and across the state,” he said. “I am glad I am a part of the Hertford County 4-H Club; it has motivated me to be better and do better.”

Parker presented paper work for Holley, Ruffin and 4-H’er Dori Mathney to sign in order to establish an enhancement fund, similar to a money market account, to help fund the Hertford County program’s activities. He encouraged the public to contribute to the fund.

Holley reached out to young people to get involved in the 4-H Club.

“Many of you (young people) complain there is nothing to do, there’s plenty to do if you get involved in 4-H,” she said. “All you have to do is pick up the phone and call and ask ‘What is there for me to do?’ and we’ll put you to work. Surprisingly, enough you’ll have fun doing it.”

To learn more about the Hertford County 4-H Club or to get involved contact Ruffin at 252-358-7822.