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4-H teaches students about social, leadership development

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

Tira Lauby, a freshman at Fayette County High School, left quite an impression on State Rep. Mike Glanton (D-Jonesboro) on Thursday, by making an omelet for him.

The lawmaker watched in amazement as she mixed water in the eggs, then poached the yolk until it was ready for her cheese and ham ingredients, along with a host of peppers and other items.

Glanton was making his first appearance at the annual 4-H Omelet Breakfast at the University of Georgia's Clayton County extension office. He liked the way Lauby made the omelet, and her commitment to 4-H, so much, he offered her an opportunity to be one of his legislative pages.

Glanton had only one question for Lauby, though.

"Why did you pour water in the eggs?" he asked.

"It makes the omelet fluffier," she replied.

The 4-H is a national program designed to help children, between the ages of 9 and 19, gain a better understanding of environmental concerns, issues facing their local communities, and the importance of participating in community service projects. The four "H"s in the group's name stand for heart, health, head and hands, and they appear in the organization's logo on each leaf of a four-leaf clover.

The 4-H programs in Georgia are offered through the University of Georgia's extension service, which has offices in each of the state's 159 counties. The children who participate in the organization also learn public speaking skills, and learn about leadership through interaction with government officials.

The local students who cooked the omelets on Thursday got an opportunity to meet county leaders in an informal setting. While the omelet breakfast is one way 4-H members interact with local leaders, 4-H members from across the state take visits to the state capitol building in Atlanta.

The 4-H program was created by the United States Congress, through the Smith-Lever Act of 1914. The University of Georgia's extension program has been overseeing the organization's involvement in this state since then.

"We are charged by the University of Georgia to work with the local community," said Kim Siebert, the coordinator of UGA's extension office in Clayton. "The extension office is a cooperative venture between the university and the county, and the university requires us to keep the local leadership aware of what we are doing."

In most counties, every fifth-grader in the public school system is exposed to 4-H at the school he or she attends. There are more than 170,000 Georgia students, and six and a half million pupils across the country, involved in 4-H, according to the web site for UGA's Clayton extension office.

Suzette Antoine, a program assistant at the Clayton extension office, said about 4,000, Clayton County fifth-graders, and as many as 60 middle- and high-school students, are in 4-H. There is a junior county council for sixth- through eighth-graders, and a senior council for high school students.

Children who participate in 4-H also get to participate in several activities designed to stimulate their intellectual development, including photography classes and activities related to reading and math.

Ashley Poland, the 4-H agent for Henry County, said there are "over 3,000 kids, easily," who participate in her county's 4-H program and it's various activities, such as the shotgun club, the horse club, and the county council group.

As is the case in Clayton, the overwhelming majority of 4-H participants in Henry are in the fifth grade.

"Kids in middle-and high-school are generally interested in joining 4-H, but the only issue is the scheduling conflicts with sports, or band, or cheer leading," Poland said. "It can be difficult to get kids in that age range to participate, but if you have the meetings at night, you are more likely to have those kids show up."

Glanton said having the 4-H organization in Clayton County is a huge boost to efforts to keep children off the streets and out of trouble. Glanton is also a fan of how the organization gives children a place to get involved in their community, and learn how to become the leaders of tomorrow.

"One of the things I want to do, is help this organization gain more attention in the county, and encourage other kids to join it," Glanton said. "I think it's important to the entire region."