Clovers All Over: What Are the 4 H’s, Anyway?

— Written By Dee Shore and last updated by
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With Saint Patrick’s Day approaching, clover decorations abound. But for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, the clover is meaningful year-round: a symbol of its tie to North Carolina 4-H.

4-H challenges young people ages 5 to 19 to learn by doing. The program’s name comes from four guiding words in the national 4-H pledge: “I pledge my head to clearer thinking, my heart to greater loyalty, my hands to larger service and my health to better living, for my club, my community, my country and my world.”

In our state, NC State Extension and N.C. A&T State University’s Cooperative Extension Program work with county Cooperative Extension Centers to guide our youth to fulfill the four Hs.

We asked several exemplary 4-H’ers to explain what each word means to them.

Head to Clearer Thinking

“When you are in 4-H, you might have to take care of animals or help little kids, so you have to pay attention and you’ve got to be responsible. I’ve learned a lot through 4-H, mainly about responsibility and leadership.” – Nashia Harris, 14, Northampton County

As their mom, homeschool teacher and 4-H club co-leader Evangeline Harris points out, 4-H provides an outlet for them to learn more, share their knowledge, meet new people and be recognized for their accomplishments.

Nashia knows a lot about animals and animal husbandry because she helps on her family’s chicken farm. She says 4-H gave her the guts to stand in front of others and tell them what she knows. Once painfully shy, she’s not only embraced presentations as her favorite 4-H activity, she has gold medals to prove she’s good at it. 

Heart to Greater Loyalty

“Pledging my heart to greater loyalty means doing things that benefit the community. 4-H emphasizes participation in community service activities. When I first started doing community service activities, I was just participating to get the credit I needed for different applications, but now I genuinely enjoy supporting others in my community.” – Nicole Worth, 19, Johnston County 4-H alumni

I learn something new every time.

To Nicole, a former State 4-H Council officer, loyalty means more than giving back to her community. It means paying forward — and then because she’s paying forward, she’s also getting back.

As she notes, 4-H events usually include service activities that participants work on together. They also give her the chance to meet people with talents or skills in areas she doesn’t know much about. “I learn something new every time,” she says.

Nicole entered NC State last fall as a full-time student in a demanding discipline – computer science – but she still finds time for others. Each week, she rides the bus, then her bike, to her volunteer job as cat and kitten matchmaker for the Wake County SPCA, and she works part-time helping out in the state 4-H office.

“And when the time rolls around when 4-H record book judges and presentation judges are needed,” she says, “I can guarantee that I’ll be there!”

Hands to Larger Service

“You’re promising that wherever you go, your community is going to be your utmost focus. By pledging your hands to larger service, you’re promising yourself and the folks around you that you’re going to do your best for everyone.” – Spencer Cook, 17, Forsyth County

“Larger service doesn’t necessarily mean a big, extravagant project: It means putting your focus on helping others, whether it’s a big group of people or even just a couple of individuals. It also means using what you’ve learned through 4-H to aid you in making an impact.” – Jadyn Hooker, 17, Forsyth County

For Jadyn and Spencer, community service is the reason they are in 4-H. They’re part of the Trailblazers Teen 4-H Club, which works year-round to help others.

Through the Winston-Salem Rescue Mission, they host game nights for men in a program designed to help them overcome drug and alcohol addiction. For Operation Christmas Child, they collect items and then package them in shoe boxes for children in developing countries. For Project Linus, they make blankets for children who are patients in a local children’s hospital. And that’s just for starters.

“If you want something done or you want to start a project to help or to influence others, you have to be proactive. You can’t sit by and cross your fingers,” Spencer said. “Taking initiative has been a really big part of what 4-H has taught me.”

Health to Better Living

“Pledging your health to better living not only means being physically healthy and trying to eat better and exercise, it also means being mentally healthy and knowing what to try to focus on it and not let school or work monopolize your life so much that it drives you insane.” – Ryan Baskerville, 16, Warren County

There was a time in Ryan’s life when his temper would flare at the slightest frustration. An ambitious, curious and intelligent person – “always busy,” he says – he filled every spare moment with school work and activities he thought would be résumé builders.

In fact, that reasoning led him to 4-H: A school counselor recommended a 4-H leadership program. He doubted that he’d like it, but he thought it would look good on a college application. Once he took part, though, he was hooked and signed up for more.

Back in 1908, the fourth H stood for hustle – rendering ready service to develop health and vitality.

Through 4-H healthy living programs, Ryan learned about the importance of bringing balance to his life, eating healthy and exercising regularly. Then he started teaching younger kids what he’d learned.

The 4-H experience, he says, has been life-changing. “I don’t think anything has prepared me more for college or the world than 4-H,” he said. “It changed me for the better. I’m a lot calmer, a lot more patient and a lot more tolerant.

“4-H teaches me how to manage my life as a whole. At the same time, it’s also teaching me how to help others – which is amazing.”