By Liam Tiernan
Clinton County Chatter Staff Reporter
In small towns, rural communities, and suburbs of large cities across America, the 4-H club stands as a bastion of family values, strong work ethics, and youth education.
With over 60 million alumni and 7 million current members, the 4-H club has taught life skills to American youth for over 100 years.
In Clinton County, however, some believe that these values are being lost.
Despite nationwide enrollment growing, enrollment in Clinton County 4-H has been decreasing since the new millennium began. According to the Clinton County 4-H club, new club member enrollment has decreased by 30 percent in the last fifteen years.
“When I was in high school, there were 34 other kids in the club with me,” said Carl Lundquist, a 4-H club alumni and volunteer from DeWitt. “In 2004 my kids were in the club with 14 other kids.”
Some attribute this to the loss of family farms as larger, corporate-run farms buy larger swathes of farmland in Clinton County. Others say that cuts to school funding are the biggest reason for the decline. Either way, many are saddened by the downturn.
“I remember, back in the 80’s, all of Main Street was hardware stores and the churches were full every sunday,” said Ken Harris, St. Johns business owner and resident since 1985. “But when the family farms gave way to big ones we lost a lot of it. The elementary school doesn’t even have 4-H anymore.”
Of the 7 million members currently enrolled in 4-H clubs, 4 million of those are students reached through school enrichment programs, according to a 4-H newsletter in published in 2003. Concerns that Clinton County Schools lack 4-H opportunities may explain the recessions in membership.
Clinton County RESA removed the 4-H program from elementary schools in 2002 after budget cuts.
Nationally, 4-H members outnumber those of the Boy Scouts of America and the Girl Scouts of America combined. According to 4-H USA, 43 percent of 4-H members are from rural areas like Clinton County.
There are also 570,000 volunteer leaders nationwide.
The Clinton County 4-H Club has tentative plans to begin a recruitment campaign in 2017.
“This club means a lot of things to a lot of people,” said Lundquist. “It’s not likely that it’s going anywhere.”