4-H — it’s not just about cows anymore!

  • Delyah Evans holds a sign for the Happy Helping Hands 4-H Club’s first public appearance during the 2019 River Rat Parade. In the background is club member Kyle Evans and volunteer Ellen Evans. Submitted Photo

  • Norah Hart of the Happy Helping Hands 4-H Club pitched in to help at an Easter bake sale this year. Submitted Photo

Staff Writer
Published: 6/4/2019 9:50:23 PM
Modified: 6/4/2019 9:50:17 PM

ATHOL – The four-leaf clover symbol is familiar to many who associate it with agricultural fairs and animal science, but as the Happy Helping Hands 4-H club exclaimed with a sign in this year’s River Rat Parade, “it’s not just about cows anymore!”

For the 12 young members of the newly chartered Athol club, the first year involved volunteering at numerous events including Green Clean Athol, North Quabbin Citizen Advocacy’s Soup & Song, the North Quabbin Food-A-Thon, and holding fundraising bake sales.

“It’s not only agriculture and animals, it’s cooking, sewing, home economics, STEM-related programs (science, technology, engineering and math), and life skills,” said the club’s team leader Stacy Thompson. “It’s about making kids well-rounded individuals.”

In the late 1800s, farmers relied on youth to share new ideas and experiences in agriculture, connecting public school to country life. The 4-H organization, which stands for Head, Heart, Hands and Health, was started in 1902 by A.B. Graham in Ohio as a youth program and is considered the birth of 4-H. The clover pin with an H on each leaf was created by Jessie Field Shambaugh in 1910, and by 1912 they were called 4-H clubs.

Happy Helping Hands is connected to the Massachusetts 4-H, a youth development program extension of the University of Massachusetts Amherst, part of a nationwide system connected to each land-grand institution of higher education. According to Pioneer Valley 4-H Educator Thomas Waskiewicz, “We provide support in terms of volunteer leadership, project books, workshops for volunteers and youth, events for the clubs to participate in such as 4-H fairs, public speaking competitions and financial assistance for clubs’ needs such as attendance at camps and conferences, field trips and project materials.”

Thompson said the older kids in her club can choose what activities they’d like to do, and they have a lot of ideas. One member works with miniature horses. “They do a little bit of everything,” said Activities Coordinator Richess Crosby. At age 18 a member can become a junior leader. Children ages 5 to 7, called Clover Buds, aren’t yet allowed to do hands-on work with animals and judging.

“The Athol library has a wealth of activities for 4-H kids to do, like cooking class,” Thompson said. Fair season is coming up, and some of the members will be participating in the Franklin County Fair in Heath on June 22. The curriculum also focuses on being healthy, first aid, and physical fitness challenges.

Waskiewicz, who has been involved with 4-H for more than 30 years, said the club benefits kids and the community in “so many ways” by “keeping the youth actively engaged in learning experiences, building community relationships, providing an experiential learning environment, expanding non-school learning opportunities, and building life skills.” Crosby said one member who at first didn’t want to lead the pledge now looks forward to the meetings.

Waskiewicz said research shows that 4-H members are likely to excel in school, lead their peers and give to their communities.

One of the projects of the Happy Helping Hands group will be to plant and upkeep food in front of the Orange Food Pantry on East Main Street that will be available for people to take. For fundraisers, the group votes on how to spend the money and picks an agency in the community that could benefit from it.

The 4-H slogan is “learn by doing,” and the club’s aim is to make it fun. “I think it encompasses so much more,” Thompson said.

Another interesting component to the group, Thompson said, is that they have several children who are on the autism spectrum or behavior challenged. “It’s been a good fit for these kids. It’s nice to be able to encourage them to take part in fairs and to step out of their comfort zones, in front of their peers, and talk about their projects.”

This month the club will submit a report of what they’ve done so they can learn about parliamentary procedures and balancing a checkbook while following 4-H guidelines.

Crosby said some of the members keep a white notebook that document their projects that will serve as a resume later. “It’s a matter of what you can have them do, learn and grow in a short amount of time and keep track of it,” Thompson said.

The Happy Helping Hands club will participate in the Third Thursdays in Orange and First Fridays in Athol during which they will raffle off a Father’s Day-themed basked filled with local items. A potential future project is to join a statewide campaign to sew pillowcases for hospitalized children to help brighten their rooms.

The club meets every Friday at the Athol YMCA, 545 Main St., from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Parents interested in learning more about the club are invited to attend a meeting.

“4-H is fun,” Thompson said. “I wish they had a 4-H for parents.”

Several 4-H clubs in the North Quabbin region are currently accepting new members. All clubs participate in leadership, citizenship, community service, and public speaking development.


Happy Helping Hands 4-H Club, a crafts, animals, community service and gardening club for ages 5 to 18. Contact: Stacy Thompson, 978-830-0373 or email stacy11505@yahoo.com

Hope-Heart-Honor & Help Club, a community service club for ages 7 to 16. Contact: Deborah Frechette, 978-249-8305, 413-548-6485, or email debf1960@mass.rr.com.

New Salem:

Young Pioneers 4-H Club, an oxen and general club for ages 6 to 17. Contact: Gail Spring, 978-544-7530, 978-467-7732 or email gjspring@yahoo.com.


Brush Valley 4-H Club for ages 6 to 11. Contact: Julie Severance, 978-544-5427 or email weldsheep.mom23@gmail.com.

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