Lelan Statom, Nashville NewsChannel 5 meteorologist, is often asked to speak at civic and community events. There he uses skills first practiced in 4-H as a fourth grader at Jennie Bell Elementary School in Dyersburg. He fondly remembers his first 4-H project – photography.
“One of your first experiences in 4-H was giving a project demonstration or presenting a poster about your project,” says Statom, who is now a member of the Tennessee 4-H Foundation, which advises direction of state 4-H programs.
More than a million young Tennesseans have participated in 4-H since the 1930s, when the first 4-H clubs started in Crossville. Those first 4-H members learned about raising corn and canning garden crops.
Commissioner Candice McQueen, with the Tennessee Department of Education, can also personally attest to how 4-H can guide a young person on a path to success.
“I look back on all the 4-H contests, leadership opportunities, trips, time with my extension agents, the infamous ‘record book’ and friendships very fondly. 4-H has shaped who I am today and for that I will always be grateful,” she says.
Discovering the World
Traditional 4-H projects like livestock and foods are still popular in the state, but only 7 percent of nearly 170,000 Tennessee 4-H’ers lived on a farm in 2014. There are new favorites: computers, engineering and technology, and also communications projects now including video production. In 2015, Cameron Sanford and Katelyn Wilson, Crockett County 4-H’ers, won awards for 4-H videos at that year’s NO BULL Teen Video Awards in Los Angeles, a contest focused on preventing bullying and promoting good citizenship.
The appeal of 4-H beyond its historic rural base makes sense to Reuben Buck, a Brentwood-based attorney who is the senior director, global brand protection, for multinational computer networking company CISCO Systems.
Buck, who also serves on the Tennessee 4-H Foundation, grew up on a farm in Robertson County, where his whole family was active in the club. He showed cattle, won the state crop science project contest, and served in regional and state 4-H youth leadership.
“Science has always been central in 4-H,” he says. Whether teaching basics of livestock nutrition or computer programming, 4-H projects involve experiential learning that engages the whole person. “It all starts with the ‘Four H’s’ – head, heart, hands and health.”
One aspect of 4-H that McQueen likes best is “the opportunity to put your knowledge to work.”
“Students can tailor their 4-H experience to their interests, allowing them an outlet to hone their writing skills or develop an invention using scientific principles. This is the kind of personalization many teachers strive to achieve in their classrooms,” she says.
Both Statom and Buck say 4-H helped them learn the value of good citizenship and civic engagement.
“I remember learning how a bill becomes law at the Tennessee State House,” Statom says. “We 4-H’ers were actually allowed on the floor during the debate.”
Buck recalls attending a national 4-H citizenship event in Washington, D.C., personally meeting members of Congress.
“That made a tremendous impression on me,” he says.
McQueen notes 4-H’s potential to positively influence students living in all settings – rural, suburban or urban.
“While the program grew from rural roots, it is now anchored on citizenship and leadership, skills that we know employers are clamoring for.”
During his summers in college, Statom was athletic director at the former 4-H camp in Milan. Today, he emcees the annual Tennessee 4-H History Bowl at the state 4-H Congress. Plus, Statom and his wife, Yolanda, have two children who are both 4-H’ers.
Buck stresses how 4-H’s adult volunteer leaders are models of community involvement for young club members.
“The 4-H volunteers showed us members how just one person can really make a difference in the community,” says Buck, who also has children in 4-H.
In addition to service on the Tennessee 4-H Foundation, both men served on the Davidson County Extension Committee. They’re also involved in the community beyond 4-H.
“4-H serves as a good foundation for making you a well-rounded individual,” Statom says.