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Fiscal court should fund 4-H position on ‘stop-gap’ basis

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Carroll County Fiscal Court has the opportunity to make a big difference in the lives of the county’s youth as they consider a request to provide “stop-gap funding” for the Extension service 4-H position.

The Extension agent position for the county’s 4-H program has been open since Mandy Parker left in 2009. She built an excellent program that involved our youth in healthy, life-enriching programs, some of which continue today because of the dedication of volunteers.

However, four years is too long to go without a 4-H agent. And under the current system used by the University of Kentucky to fill open positions, it will likely be another two years before this position is filled.

Carroll County’s youth cannot afford this wait.

During the March 13 fiscal court meeting, Judge-Executive Harold “Shorty” Tomlinson and county Extension council president Mike Lewis both pointed out the crime and drugs that have taken a hold on many in our community. A strong 4-H program can help our young people make wise choices through the many opportunities its programs offer.

How do we know this is the case?

Dr. Richard Lerner, a youth development scholar, and the team at the Institute for Applied Research in Youth Development at Tufts University has worked with land-grant universities, such as UK, on the study, “The 4-H Study of Positive Youth Development.”

With more than 7,000 youth in 44 states involved in the study that started in 2002, Lerner has found two key differences in youth who have been in the 4-H program. They have higher educational achievement and are more motivated to continue their education beyond high school and they are more involved and make more civic contribution to their communities.

These are both important issues for Carroll County, where only 8 percent of our population has a college degree — a number that did not increase between the 2000 and 2010 census.

There are more positive results from 4-H participation that is reported in the Wave 7 study conducted on those who take part in the programs.

Young people involved in 4-H have been found to make healthier life choices because of what they have learned. This Wave 7 study, available at www.4-H.org, shows, 4-Hers are:

• 2.4 times more likely to delay sexual intercourse by Grade 11;

• Shown to have had significantly lower drug, alcohol and cigarette use than their peers; and

• 2.3 times more likely to exercise and be physically active.

This study also found that youth who participate in 4-H programs make better grades, are more engaged at school and achieve higher levels of academic competence. 4-Hers also are two times more likely to go to college.

The Wave 7 report also found that youth in 4-H are more likely to pursue careers in science, engineering or computer technology.

If studies are not enough to convince you, just talk to someone who is or has been involved in 4-H.

My experiences with the 4-H and the positive influences of Fred Herndon, my 4-H agent in Lee County, Va., have made a big difference in my life.

Taking part in the demonstration programs provided me many opportunities for growth that I would have never experienced in high school. I learned how to write and present information and take part in public speaking through these competitions that led me to a second place finish in the state.

It also exposed me to a college campus for the first time when I got to go to the state competition at Virginia Tech. All of the 4-Hers competing at the state level got to stay on campus and sleep in college dorms for a few nights.

I know that 4-H made a difference in my life and helped me become the person that I am today.

It can do the same for our children in Carroll County.

As Tomlinson pointed out, the General Assembly and state leaders have created this problem through all of the budget cuts they have imposed. It has left far too many things falling on the shoulders of our local leaders.

We know they cannot pick up the ball and carry it on everything the state fails to fund.

However, good leadership means looking at the value of programs and deciding what is important and can really impact our community — and our children.

The “stop-gap funding” option for the 4-H agent will mean the fiscal court has to make an investment of $46,350. The county has saved a good portion of that over the four years the job has been vacant because the county hasn’t had to pay its share of the salary.

Magistrates may argue that this could turn into an expense that would extend beyond the two years if UK decides not to continue funding. That is an unknown that can be debated if this should occur.

Fiscal court must deal with the facts that are known today as they are making this decision. 4-H makes a difference in the lives of our youth. Carroll County’s children are worth the investment.

Jeff Moore is publisher of The News-Democrat and The Trimble Banner. He resides in Carrollton, Ky.