NEWBERRY — Newberry County 4-H is about more than cooking, sows and cows.
That’s the message Newberry County Extension Agent Alana West and her mentor Paulette Gay-Halfacre want parents and young people in the county to know.
Modern 4-H includes a robotics club; a cooking club/healthy lifestyle competition; an archery club; a shotgun club that recently competed at the Shotgun Junior U.S. Open; and still offers opportunities to show cows, chicken, pigs, goats and sheep.
West has led the Newberry County 4-H since 2010 when she transferred from Cherokee County back to her home of Newberry.
Ironically, West, who is tasked with coordinating volunteers and with promoting 4-H within the county, was not exposed to 4-H as a youth.
“There was a gap in programming,” West said. “Back then, Boyd Parr, state veterinarian with Clemson Extension, and Mike Lovelace who worked with Clemson extension had children who showed cows but there was not an in school program and there were no summer camps.”
Her plan for this county’s 4-H involves following the advice of mentor Paulette Halfacre and building a program around areas in which she and youth are passionate.
“This is an opportunity that was not provided to me that I should have received and I want to make sure it is provided (in my home town),” West said. “(Paulette) told me to try to do your best in all club areas but to pick one area you are passionate about and build on that program.”
For Paulette that was the equine program, for Alana, the natural resources programing such as recycling, water quality and environmental concerns
West met Halfacre through Pontoon 4H20, a water quality camp, in 1999. West was an intern who helped with the camp while a student at Clemson and there she learned of 4-H. During the intership she realized she had a special love for Pontoon 4H20 and for teaching and working with the children.
West studied architecture at Clemson and had changed majors to city planning. But the internship and the love of the outdoors she experienced in her environmental law classes convinced her to change paths and earn an undergraduate degree in agriculture and applied economics and a master’s degree in agriculture education.
West, who earned teacher certification at Clemson University in addition to her extension credentials, brings 4-H into the schools, teaching lessons that meet the state instructional standards.
She feels more called to be a 4-H leader than classroom teacher.
“There is flexibility within 4-H. I can set up lessons for MyPlate one week and then change to camps the next. It’s about meeting the needs of children,” she said.
In 2010 she worked for 4-H and was transferred to Newberry tasked with getting interest and programming re-energized in Newberry County.
“To make the best, better”
As a Volunteer Coordinator Halfacre said she teaches the 4-H motto, “to make the best, better.”
Halfacre said each county is unique in its own way. She started 4-H as a fourth grader in Saluda County by building a bird house and learning about blue birds.
But the program did not have continuity and structure to keep her engaged on into high school, so by then Halfacre became more involved in cheer leading and as a majorette. Her husband showed a bull and was exposed to the FFA Future Farmers of America which had a heifer project as well as classes in wood working and small engine repair.
Halfacre had been in the beauty business for 26 years and worked part time in a school cafeteria. One day at a church meeting she talked to a friend who was an extension agent in Lexington County and encouraged her to apply for a program assistant position. She transitioned to work at 4-H full-time and worked with parents and young children of modest means for 17.5 years.
In 1995, Halfacre started working at the Clemson Extension Service where she helped expand the foods and nutrition education program.
She worked with young mothers with small children as part of that education program and if a child then was age 5 or up, he or she automatically had opportunity to enroll in 4-H.
Agriculture based program emphasizing food safety and also preservation….
The program was for families of limited means so at times she/they met as a club on site at a housing project.
Children ages 7-8 met as a club but if she worked with children ages 5-7, she met them in the home.
The program collaborated with Head Start in areas of food an nutrition.
Four years later she worked as a 4-H volunteer coordinating assistant where she recruited, trained and promoted people for 4-H in Lexington and Richland counties.
She did 4-H at Ft. Jackson, too.
Counties and focus areas
York has a thriving history club.
One of the strongest areas she had there was equine. Saluda is known for its cows. Newberry has done well in healthy lifestyles, finishing third in the state in the recent past.
Halfacre said you must adapt to recruit volunteers and West agrees, calling public speaking her most used job skill.
Home schooled children do multiple extracurricular activities and are a core group in Newberry 4H, but so are students engaged in the public school system.
THIS can’t be done without a lot of volunteers, West said. We would like to have five teams (in a category) to narrow down to two (to send for competition), West said.
It takes one volunteer at at least five children to form a club.
There are four regions and eight teams that compete at the state level, so one of West’s goals is having enough teams at various age groups so they can compete at high levels.
For the first time since her grandmother was in Newberry County 4-H, the group held a speech competition at Springfield Place.
Changing with the times
But the organization has changed with times.
Precursor groups to 4-H in South Carolina began as corn clubs and tomato canning clubs where children would attempt to explain new agriculture techniques to their parents and grandparents which would produce higher yield, heartier crops.
West and Halfacre said coordinating volunteers is more involved now. There are background checks and copious amounts of paperwork. If volunteers transport children, they must first receive defensive driver training.
West is certified to drive children but said parents may only transport their own children to 4-H.
Add staffing concerns into the mix and agents face a myriad of issues.
Paulette said 4H has a goal of an agent in all 46 counties but some agents serve more than one county.
According to West, Newberry is blessed to have a full-time agent as a county of its size and attributes that in part to Newberry’s agrarian past and strong farming culture in the past.
Now, though, there are different nuances to 4-H. More than just cows and cooking. For more information on 4-H opportunities see http://www.clemson.edu/extension/4h/index.html and http://www.clemson.edu/extension/county/newberry/programs/4h/index.html and follow the group on Facebook.