The 159th Mississippi State Fair concludes at 10 p.m. tomorrow in Jackson after 12 days of celebrating what our state has to offer in agriculture and commerce.

The state fair and county fairs throughout the state showcase arts, crafts, garden, cooking, livestock and other projects local residents have worked on during the year.

Much of the interest for children and youths may be on the midway games and rides they can enjoy at the fair. Certainly I – and others of my generation and older – have fond memories of enjoying our first carnival rides at the county fair.

For more than 100 years many youths who are members of 4-H have enjoyed their first taste of success as ribbon-winners for various kinds of projects entered at the county fair.

I have been a 4-H volunteer for about a dozen years, so was disappointed when I recently encountered a father of three children ages 6 to 12 who had never heard of 4-H.

What is 4-H, you may ask.

Offered through the county extension service in every county and parish in the nation, 4-H is a free youth development program through which young people ages 8-18 (with Cloverbud programs for younger children ages 5-7) “learn by doing.”

Mississippi State University is the state’s university that oversees the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Cooperative Extension Service in Mississippi, of which 4-H is a part.

From the 4-H.org website: “Kids complete hands-on projects in areas like science, health, agriculture and civic engagement, in a positive environment where they receive guidance from adult mentors and are encouraged to take on proactive leadership roles.”

National 4-H Week concludes today, but as the national celebration began last weekend, the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama welcomed 4-Hers to their annual 4-H Day.

Although many people who are familiar with 4-H may think of it in relation to farming and agriculture, I first learned about 4-H at the University of the District of Columbia.

Not only in large cities like Washington, D.C., but also in our local communities, the young people who participate in 4-H learn about photography, robotics, online journalism, modeling, bicycling, graphic arts, crafts and any other subjects local volunteers can help them explore.

And, of course, they also have a chance to learn traditional skills related to home and agriculture like raising and showing cows, horses, chickens, goats, shooting sports (pistol, rifle, shotgun, archery), sewing, cooking, baking, canning and more.

Certainly youths have access to many opportunities at school, but 4-H is an outlet that teaches many leadership skills for those who may not participate in other organized groups or team sports.

Federal government agencies spend millions of dollars sharing information about their work to help their constituents – the taxpayers.

The Department of Commerce’s National Weather Service works continuously to improve its ability to forecast catastrophic weather events like Hurricane Michael that roared through the Gulf of Mexico this week. The agency’s forecasting ability enables it to warn residents to evacuate as part of its mission to protect life and property.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control puts out information about the strains of flu virus that are expected to be prevalent during the flu season so we can be properly immunized to guard our health.

But we don’t always see spending to publicize other federal programs to benefit ordinary citizens, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture could probably do a better job of spreading the word about 4-H.

So I’m using this forum as a megaphone to amplify the message of 4-H youth development.

Contact your local Extension Service office to learn about 4-H and/or to become a volunteer.

“Inspire Kids To Do.”

Lena Mitchell is a retired daily reporter for the Daily Journal and writes a regular column. Contact her at lena.mitchell@journalinc.com.

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