What do a soil scientist, farmer, real estate agent and professional landscaper have in common? A solid foundation of 4-H competitions, according to former West Virginia University Extension Service Barbour County Agriculture Agent Roger Nestor.

“4-H competitions help shape youths and prepare them for adulthood,” said Nestor. “They’re gaining more than judging skills—they’re learning how to take responsibility, to perform under pressure, and to meet deadlines.”

As a result, West Virginia 4-H’ers have dominated local and national 4-H livestock, horticulture, land and homesite evaluation competitions for decades. Each competition is designed to provide participants with the opportunity to develop critical thinking, leadership, teamwork, decision-making and public-speaking skills.

In 4-H land and homesite judging programs, 4-H’ers learn about soil properties; management and sustainability for homebuilding; land protection and conservation; water and the environment. In West Virginia, these practices are often used when building homes or for farming and agricultural purposes.

Nestor says many past land judging participants have grown up to become land management specialists or soil scientists for major organizations such as the United States Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency.

“These competitions open up a world of opportunity for 4-H’ers,” said Nestor. “From food production and real estate to forestry management and conservation, there are quite a few industries that youths enter thanks to the skills acquired through these contests.”

West Virginia 4-H’ers are no strangers to victory when it comes time for awards.

In 2014, Monroe County’s 4-H Land Judging Team earned the title of National Reserve Champions in homesite evaluation, while Barbour County’s 4-H Team was a first place champion in the land judging and homesite evaluation categories.

The victories for individuals and teams come from commitment, sacrifices, hard work and long hours of practice, according to Jeff Skousen, WVU Extension specialist in land reclamation.

“West Virginia 4-H’ers do well because they are given a challenge by their coaches to train hard and excel,” said Skousen. “So many of our youths today are not given boundaries or expectations to perform or take responsibility for their decisions—but 4-H competitions instill these values in them, which benefits them in adulthood.”

But win or lose, youths bring home more than awards from 4-H competitions. In preparation of these events, youths participate in comprehensive hands-on training to gain the skills and knowledge needed to compete, often transitioning with them into future careers.

“Kids today are bombarded with tough decisions,” said Nestor. “I like knowing we’re helping them navigate through troubled waters by equipping them with solid decision-making skills.”

Positive youth development is an essential element of the 4-H mission, which seeks to equip youths with the tools they need to reach their fullest potential, said Nestor.

“These contests truly embody the 4-H motto, ‘to make the best, better’,” said Nestor. “Even those who don’t place at competitions experience both personal and professional growth.”

For more than a century, 4-H has focused on agricultural science, electricity, mechanics, entrepreneurship and natural sciences. Today, 4-H out-of-school opportunities also exist in subjects like rocketry, robotics, biofuels, renewable energy and computer science.

To learn more about new opportunities in the 4-H program, visit www.ext.wvu.edu, or contact your local office of the WVU Extension Service.

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CONTACT: Cassie Thomas, WVU Extension Service
304.293.8735, Cassie.Thomas@mail.wvu.edu

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