The pandemic has been hard on everyone, but it has hindered community involvement particularly hard. Volunteer organizations all over the state have had a difficult time congregating with each other. Luckily, members of the New Hampshire 4-H Club have found ways to keep themselves and their communities as active as possible.

For those who aren’t familiar, 4-H is a family-oriented program – parents are encouraged to help their children with the projects and activities at hand. The organization’s leaders are volunteers who aid in teaching, organizing and acclimating new parents to the program. At 4-H, the youth learn by doing, garnering useful skills, teamwork and how to serving the community.

The 4-H program has a set of Mission Mandates, ensuring the activities at hand fall into one of three categories: healthy living (nutrition, fitness and social/emotional health); citizenship (leadership, service, civic engagement and civic education); and science (animal science and agriculture, consumer science engineering, environmental science and natural resources, life science and technology). The four-leaf clover is the official 4-H emblem. The four Hs stand for head, heart, hands and health. Their colors are green, signifying life, springtime and youth, and white, which signifies fresh and clean.

Andrea Sawyer is the 4-H field specialist in Cheshire County. She joined the Cheshire County Extension office in 1988, and primarily works with the animal and plant science project areas. In addition, she actively recruits new volunteers and clubs and coordinates county activities and events. She also aids in promoting STEM activities in the afterschool setting.

4-H in Cheshire County focuses on youth ages 5 to 18, and aims to bolster their overall mental, physical, moral and social development. Given these crucial life tools, the possibilities are endless for these students, who will ultimately develop into efficient citizens and leaders.

Take Andie Majewski for example. She is currently a senior at Keene High School and has been a 4-H member since she was 8 years old. She plans to attend the University of New Hampshire in the fall as an animal science major; she credits the trajectory of her animal science career to the 4-H community. Not only has her time with the organization shaped her career path, it has also shaped her as a person.

“I have become an outgoing, determined and vocal youth leader in my community because of the opportunities that have been presented to me through this program,” Majewski said.

4-H has brought her all over the country – from the Madison, Wis., dairy farms to Washington D.C. to speak with representatives and senators about the impact NH 4-H has had on her. She’s spoken with members of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, as well, about ways to address the challenging agriculture it will inevitably face in the future. All of this experience has shaped Majewski into the person she is today, she said, noting she is incredibly grateful for the opportunities that have been presented to her through this awesome program.

With the pandemic in full swing, it is obviously difficult for 4-H clubs across the state to meet in person to achieve some of these activities. Fortunately, the NH 4-H community came up with some temporary at-home solutions that can be tackled while in isolation.

“Here at Cheshire County, we have several things rolled out to families,” Sawyer said.

One of the activities is seed distribution, where families receive a few packs of seeds and are encouraged to “Grow a Row” for their local food pantry or someone in need. They are also encouraging club members (and the community in general) to practice community service during their time at home, such as roadside cleanups while on a family walk.

“We have also had two clubs participating in projects for our healthcare workers,” Sawyer said. “The Mechanical Madness Club in Walpole has made clips for masks with their 3D printer. These clips hold the elastic away from the healthcare workers’ ears. One of their members has sewn over 200 masks!”

In addition, the Monadnock Mountaineers Club in Jaffrey has also been sewing masks for the Monadnock Community Hospital. Over in Walpole, the Pinnacleview Club has been holding a food drive and are working on a program for milk distribution.

Majewski has also helped Sawyer and other volunteer leaders stay in touch with kids across the county by hosting Zoom meetings and creating virtual Quizlet game nights. In an effort to have the 4-H youth step out of their comfort zones, Majewski has been posting videos on the Community Facebook page to give families fun ideas to try out at home. Among them has been to craft spring-themed cards that they can send to senior citizens in the community who aren’t able to see their families right now.

“We’re constantly brainstorming creative ways to bring everyone together in the community,” Majewski said. “4-H has managed to continue to teach youths during these hard times and I’m so thankful for the efforts of everyone involved in the organization.”

In these uncertain times, it is organizations like the 4-H club that are crucial to keeping the community spirit alive. If you or your child are looking to sign up, it is absolutely possible.

“We are always looking for volunteers,” Sawyer said.

For more information, visit extension.unh.edu/resource/nh-4-h-virtual-community-center-agricultural-science, or the Cheshire County 4-H Facebook page at facebook.com/CheshireCounty4H. You can also contact Sawyer at andrea.sawyer@unh.edu.