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Pennsylvania 4-H Clubs Celebrate 100 Years

Pennsylvania's 4-H Clubs have a good reason to party. The youth development program, which focuses on agricultural science, is celebrating its 100th birthday this year. Some 205,000 youth are members of the Pennsylvania 4-H. To commemorate the centennial a picnic will be hosted by the Penn State chapter in Somerset County Tuesday.

Joanne Stoltzfus, a 4-H educator with the Penn State Extension in Somerset, said tradition among the club's members has been the driving force in keeping the club going over the past century. "A lot of our members, their parents were members of 4-H, their grandparents were in 4-H, so they have fond memories and they want to pass those memories on to their children because it's been a good experience for them," Stoltzfus said.

The club was founded with roots in agriculture and livestock. Like its members, Stoltzfus said it was a group of young children that started it all. "Nationally, it was 100 years in 2002. It started off in Pennsylvania. There was a group of boys and girls that started a corn growing contest — corn growing club. They held a contest," Stoltzfus said.

A youth program, known as "The Tomato Club," began in Clark County, Ohio in 1902, and is considered to be the genesis of the 4-H organization. More programs and fairs were created in other states, including Pennsylvania, and by 1912 the term "4-H Clubs" was used.

Members now have the opportunity to develop their skills and knowledge in a variety of fields, including fishing, woodworking, robotics, and sewing. In Somerset County alone, there are more than 150 ongoing projects in a variety of areas.

Stoltzfus said she believes the club will continue to grow as it moves into the future by staying current with America's needs. "There's been studies done that our country is lacking in producing students in science/engineering technologies, so that's been a push and a priority for 4-H," Stoltzfus said.

All children between the ages 8-18 are eligible to join. "They can join when they're eight, but they have to turn nine sometime during that year, and the year they turn 19 is their last year in 4-H. We base everything on January 1, so they have to be eight as of January 1 and they can't be more than 18 as of January 1," Stoltzfus said.

For more information the 4-H Club, visit www.4-H.org. Details on the Penn State extension celebratory picnic are available online.