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Public speaking, 4-H style

Drew Crawford gives a presentation on what it takes to make the best bubble at the 2019 Franklin County 4-H STEM fair. (Photo provided by Franklin County 4-H)

4-H is the youth development program of the nation’s Cooperative Extension System. It’s almost certainly the most highly recognized of all Cooperative Extension programs and, without question, one of the leading youth organizations in the United States and Canada. In fact, 4-H is the nation’s largest non-school youth program, currently serving more than 7 million members in the United States alone.

The 4-H community is comprised of men and women, boys and girls, young and old, who are teaching and learning citizenship, leadership and life skills through programming that focuses on agriculture, craftsmanship, sportsmanship, community service, science, technology, environmental stewardship, the arts, public speaking and much, much more.

4-H members who are successful in college, in their chosen professions and/or in business often credit the planning, organization, public speaking and decision-making skills they learned in 4-H, and the positive self-concept and healthy interpersonal relationships they developed as 4-H members, as essential to their success. Since its inception early in the 20th century, 4-H clubs have produced many leaders in many fields.

Well-known 4-H alumni include an array of singers and musicians: Dolly Parton, Martina McBride, Faith Hill, Reba McIntyre, Ricky Skaggs, Johnny Cash, Vince Gill, John Denver, Charley Pride, Tanya Tucker, Pat Boone and National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellowship and Fulbright Scholar Jean Ritchie, just to name a few. Actresses and actors include Julia Roberts, Aubrey Plaza, Karen Kilgariff, Sissy Spacek, Holly Hunter, Florence Henderson, Jim Nabors, Jimmy Stewart, Donna Reed, Anne Burrell and Tom Wopat. TV personalities Jane Pauley, Johnny Carson, Steve Doocy and Nancy Grace were in 4-H. Sports greats Herschel Walker, Johnny Bench, Reggie White, Ned Jarrett and Don Meredith were all 4-H members, too. So were cartoonist Jim Davis, astronaut Alan Shepard and popcorn entrepreneur Orville Redenbacher. There’s also United States President Jimmy Carter; First Ladies Rosalynn Carter, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and Pat Nixon; Vice Presidents Al Gore and Walter Mondale; current and former U.S. senators, representatives and governors far too numerous to mention (e.g., Mitch McConnell, Jeff Sessions, Bob Dole, Debbie Stabenow, Tom Harkin, Eva M. Clayton, Tom Foley, Asa Hutchinson, Sonny Perdue, Jim Douglas, John Baldacci, George Wallace); former U.S. Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander; a myriad of university presidents; and military generals including Creighton Abrams, Russel L. Honore, Wilma Vaught and Hugh Shelton, who raised Hereford steers while in 4-H.

Former Vice President Al Gore showed Angus beef cattle at 4-H competitions in Tennessee. Faith Hill first sang in public at a 4-H mother-and-daughter luncheon. And David Letterman once hosted a 4-H-based children’s TV show called “Clover Power.”

Then there’s Executive Director and former Secretary of Agriculture Ann M. Veneman, who during a 2002 press conference in Washington honoring the 4-H centennial said, “As a member of the Empire 4-H Club in California, I worked with cooking, sewing and horse projects, but the most memorable experience was getting up in front of people to speak and to learn how to get comfortable doing that.”

Making public presentations is an internationally recognized component of 4-H youth development. And the ability to express oneself through speaking is often listed by 4-H alumni as an indispensable life skill — one with many important real-life applications — that was learned and/or enhanced while in 4-H.

4-H’ers who participate in the Public Speaking program increase their self-confidence while developing communication and delivery skills that are essential for organizing and preparing speeches and presenting themselves to others.

Public speaking skills are an integral part of success in education, business, government — any public arena. But everyone can benefit from the ability to speak confidently in public.

Job and/or college interviews, for example, require the ability to speak publicly and coherently in high-pressure situations. And 4-H youth who remain in the public speaking program are eventually given the option of choosing a simulated job or college interview in lieu of a traditional public speaking presentation.

Franklin County 4-H youth will be presenting their county-level public speaking dissertations in March. Dates, times and locations are as follows:

¯ Thursday, March 19, 6 to 8 p.m., Franklin County Courthouse, 355 West Main St.; Malone

¯ Saturday, March 28, 1 to 3 p.m., Paul Smith’s College Visitors Interpretive Center, 8023 state Route 30, Paul Smiths

¯ Thursday, April 2, 6 to 8 p.m., Chateaugay Central School; 42 River St., Chateaugay.

Presenters will be judged based upon their age, years of experience and presentation skills. Seven will be selected to continue on to the district level, where they will present with youth from five other counties. The best at that level may be invited to present at the New York State Fair.

It’s easy to join 4-H. All you have to do is contact your local Cornell Cooperative Extension office. They’ll help you find a 4-H program that fits your child’s interests and provide you with meeting locations and time commitment and program details.

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