The Ninth Decade

In late 1990, Coleman White retired as assistant director of Extension for 4-H. Kentucky 4-H specialist Anna B. Lucas was appointed interim assistant director and served through June 1992. Dr. Sylvester C. “Bill” Umscheid accepted the position on July 1, 1992.

Dr. Umscheid held Extension positions in other states before moving to Kentucky. He started his career as a county 4-H agent in Ellsworth, Kansas in 1962. He moved to New York and served as 4-H program leader in Suffolk County, then was appointed State 4-H Program Leader at Cornell University in 1978. He served Kentucky Extension until 2001.

Umscheid grew up in 4-H on a Kansas dairy farm and earned a BS in Agriculture, a masters degree in Extension Education and a doctorate in Adult, Extension and Continuing Education.

Up to the 1990s 4-H was often described in terms of events and activities. During interviews with Dr. Umscheid, the term “youth development” took on relevance. Research, some with which Umscheid had been involved, showed that 4-H had the capacity to impact the development of the total young person. This gave meaning to the change in the 4-H agent’s title to “4-H/Youth Development.”

Federal Review

During the 1990s a periodic review was conducted at the national level by 4-H youth and representatives of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, National 4-H Council and representatives of state and national groups including foundations, Extension Committee on Organization and Policy and the National Association of Extension 4-H Agents. 4-H members also made program recommendations to the Secretary of Agriculture.

“Focus on the Future,” a strategic plan for 4-H Youth Development was designed to serve as a framework for development of the 4-H program and curriculum at all levels of the system.

The base 4-H youth development program continued to focus on building lifelong learning skills that develop youth’s potential through involvement in healthy learning experiences. A wide range of content offering encourages youth to explore science, technology and citizenship.

Kentucky Education Reform Act (KERA)

Throughout the history of 4-H, changes in school systems have impacted 4-H delivery methods and content. Kentucky Education Reform established expectations and content for each grade level. Tests were designed to measure progress on expectations. When working with schools, Extension agents began presenting the 4-H program in terms of the academic expectations. It was not uncommon for teachers to contact agents for content for which they did not have curriculum. Among others, public speaking and demonstrations, natural resource education and workforce preparation were often sought. This began a practice of identifying KERA goals and academic expectations for resource materials and event guidelines which are associated with school systems.

Kentucky’s Bicentennial

In 1992, 4-H was invited to be a part of Kentucky’s bicentennial celebration. 4-H partnered with the Department of Forestry to hold a ceremony and plant a Coffee Tree in every county. The coffee tree, native to Kentucky, had been named the state tree instead of the tulip poplar. The ceremony in each county was linked to other local programs and in many cases was also done during Arbor Day programs. The Arbor Day Foundation recognized the program as an outstanding effort to educate people about the importance of trees. In addition to the tree planting, resource materials were developed to teach heritage skills. One of the most popular was Dutch Oven Cooking.
A major use of this program was used during the 4-H camping program. Campers prepared meals over a campfire and in many cases enjoyed foods they hadn’t eaten in the past.


Technology continues to grow as a subject for 4-H, as well as providing new or expanded ways of working with youth. Video series featured youth development topics of “teamwork” and “conflict resolution”. T.J., a radio talk show host, guides youth through a series of situations to help them learn teamwork techniques and conflict resolution skills.

Computers added speed and flexibility to communications. Information about 4-H events and activities, administrative procedures, and updates were first communicated to county offices and later put on a 4-H web site for public access. A Kentucky 4-H Youth Development home page was designed and placed on the internet. The page included vision, mission, values, and strategy statements. The home page was linked to county Cooperative Extension home pages. This was a major step to make information more accessible and to decrease the need for some printed materials. As technology improved the internet became a valuable tool.

Technology as a subject had been introduced at 4-H Camp by computer lessons and through 4-H computer projects. Computer skill contests began and were quickly followed by programs on global positioning systems. GPS programs were also included in Project Learning Tree, a forestry education program taught by certified leaders.

Strategic Plan for Kentucky 4-H

In 1993-94, over 100 teens, volunteers and Extension professionals participated in the design of a strategic plan for Kentucky 4-H. During the process, each team member completed a WOTS profile, determining weaknesses, opportunities, threats and strengths of 4-H. During a two-day session at the Kentucky Leadership Center, the Kentucky 4-H vision, mission, and value statements began to take shape. The plan was further refined by a smaller team. In early 1995, the plan was released. More . . . (Link to copy of the plan.)

Wayne Baxter, 4-H Agent in Taylor County captured the essence of the experience in this song:

Vision to Reality

We gathered here at Jabez, in the fall of ‘93
To talk about where we came from and where we’d like to be.
We all share a vision of what we would like to see
Young productive citizens in a diverse society.

We have a set of values, to guide us on our way.
As we form essential partnerships, we must have if we say
That volunteers are fundamental to program quality
And the secret to our being strong is in diversity.

Developing skills and leadership is what we will achieve.
Strong families and communities, if we will believe
That 4-H touches tomorrow, while it is still today
While we pursue the mission as on the course we stay.

We’ve had facilitators, consolidators, too
To help draw from within us, the things that we should do
And to put it all together, so we have in our hands
A roadmap to the future, our strategic plan.

From the breaks of the Big Sandy, to the Mississippi shore
We’ll form some coalitions, some partnerships and more
And from funding and from marketing, we’ll have results to show
From the waters of the Cumberland to the mighty Ohio.

If we accept the challenge, and if we believe
We can turn some problems into opportunities
To instill in our young people, some higher self-esteem
And we can turn the Vision into Reality.

National 4-H Congress

In the mid-1990s a major change occurred in the 4-H award and recognition system. For many years, National 4-H Congress and county medals had been a routine avenue for recognizing 4-H’ers at the county, state and national levels since the 1920s. The 4-H tradition was a system recognizing long-term involvement and achievement. New administrators at the national level became interested in a recognition system which allowed a wider range of youth to achieve at the national level.

Ultimately several significant donors decided to sponsor new or different aspects of 4-H rather than continue funding Congress. That decision was difficult to accept. Attending National 4-H Congress was considered by many the top honor one could achieve in 4-H. The last Congress held at the Hilton Hotel on Michigan Avenue in Chicago occurred in 1993. More…

Southern states rallied and provided the support needed to continue Congress. All states and U.S. territories were invited to participate. The first reinvented Congress was held in Orlando, Florida in 1994. A number of states did not participate that first year but others began returning in succeeding years. Congress participants had long been selected based on record book achievement. Lack of funding from the national level and flexibility for states to choose delegates in ways other than an achievement record helped Kentucky create the 4-H Honors Program.

Transition from Record Keeping to Honors Achievement

While Kentucky youth excelled in record keeping, completing a record book required a considerable amount of work. Participation in record keeping was decreasing in many counties. A new achievement system was born and referred to as the Honors program. Rather than continue the competitive aspect of records, any member within the appropriate age range could complete the requirement to “achieve” the bronze, silver or gold status. To achieve the bronze honor, members had to summarize past 4-H experiences and expand their favorite projects. To meet the requirements for the silver honor, members carried out a plan to market 4-H to others. Members working toward the gold honor were challenged to develop teamwork and leadership skills to make an impact on issues and concerns they identified in their community. The Louisville Courier-Journal refocused its state level support from the Award of Excellence program to Honors.

Once a 4-H member achieves the bronze level, they can be interviewed for an opportunity to attend National 4-H Congress.

Environmental Education

Environmental education took on an added emphasis throughout the nation in the 1990s. In Kentucky, in addition to the summer resident camping program, including natural resources education, counties began working with school systems to provide a two-day overnight camping experience focusing on environmental education. Quickly the program grew to over 5,000; mostly fourth through sixth graders in groups of 50 to 200 were involved in the programs. North Central 4-H Camp at Carlisle started adding additional resources including a wetlands area and a bird blind. An onsite coordinator was hired. The site has also served as an internship location for college students majoring in various subjects within the College of Agriculture. Similar camps are held at other 4-H camp locations but North Central continues to be the most prominent.

The Water Quality Initiative was a natural to include in camping programs, especially the environmental camps being held at North Central 4-H Camp. A curriculum for use in schools and as 4-H projects was also adopted. Water Quality initiatives included conservation, natural resources education and the environment.

Overnight, environmental camps were promoted with school systems during school time. The North Central 4-H Camp has been developed as a comprehensive setting for these camps. Most camps have six lessons that all campers attend—bird watching, water quality, forestry, entomology, bees, and weather.

The Natural Resource Initiative helped county programs focus on making environmental camps available to school systems. North Central 4-H Camp added a bird blind, wetlands area, beehives, an outpost and a reconstructed log home for classroom space and to teach Dutch oven cooking.

Historically, most 4-H camping programs have been five-day resident camps with a variety of topics, such as safety, swimming, archery, rifle, crafts and natural resources. The advent of desktop computers provided a new learning experience for campers and for members to enroll in computer projects. Computers donated by Radio School gave 4-H’ers an experience unavailable in schools or communities.

The Food Safety and Quality Initiative taught safe handling of foods to prevent illness. Topics including prevention of cross-contamination, cooking temperatures, food storage temperatures, and correct hand washing were used to teach the prevention of food-borne illnesses. Information on these topics was updated or added to 4-H food nutrition project areas. Other comprehensive programs included Project Learning Tree, Project Food, Land, People and Natural Resources. National curricula were adopted. Instructors were required to attend program certification training.

4-H Shooting Sports

Safety awareness programs have been prevalent throughout 4-H projects from the early beginning. Safe handling of livestock, safety in the kitchen, and tractor safety are some examples. Safe handling of firearms and archery equipment are traditional 4-H camp programs. A need emerged for more intense firearm safety education. The 4-H Shooting Sports Program began in Texas and was widely adopted throughout the nation. It is one of the few 4-H programs that require the leaders to be certified through participation in a hands-on training program for rifle, archery and skeet.


A former 4-H specialist from Georgia was invited to write curriculum for a character education program called CHARACTER COUNTS! This opened the door nationwide for 4-H to be involved in a program to teach six core principles of good character. Those principles are trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring, and citizenship.

A team made up of Extension agents, volunteers and a specialist went to the National Extension workshop. Counties piloted the program. This core group then trained others to conduct the program. It is one of many programs that 4-H does as a partner with school systems, family resource centers, court appointed workers, etc. The fifth level prepares teens to work with younger members. For example, in Clark County, junior high school students work with kindergarten youth by using a puppet program. It has stories and a different animal to represent each of the six core values. Schools using the program report fewer incidents of bullying and students written-up for poor behavior and in general a more thoughtful, courteous group of students.

Kentucky Leadership Center

In 1996 the deed to the Kentucky Leadership Center was transferred to the University of Kentucky with the management of the center remaining with the State 4-H Youth Development Department. The Leadership Center continues to grow in use. 1

Children at Risk

The USDA designated water quality, food safety, children and youth,” initiatives or topics” to receive special emphasis in Youth & Adult Extension Programs nationwide. Children at Risk initiative, later known as Children, Youth and Families at Risk, has funded county programs. Examples are Harlan County’s Employability Program, a partnership between 4-H and the Harlan Independent School District. Over 700 youth were involved in career education by increasing technological literacy. It was designed as a model that could be replicated in Family Resource/Youth Service Centers. The Centers were being established as a part of Kentucky’s Education Reform Act.

The Army School Age and Teen Project in cooperation with Missouri and Arizona produced a “Computer Lab Operations Manual” for use in 130 Army bases throughout the United States. The program is used primarily for before and after school programs. 4-H programs have been available on military bases in the past but this program and continued emphasis from USDA on military youth involvement has expanded programs.2

Kentucky’s Military Project

Because military families are often moved from place to place, 4-H at the federal level partnered with the United States Army to establish 4-H clubs on military bases around the world. In doing so, children in military families could be assured of at least one thing remaining constant wherever they moved—the opportunity to join 4-H. In 1995, State 4-H Specialist Wendy Stivers began a two-year stint with the Army Project. Both Fort Campbell and Fort Knox began 4-H Clubs during those years.

University of Kentucky Wildcats/4-H Legends Calendar

In 1996, Friends of Kentucky 4-H, Inc. signed a contract with Teamwork Unlimited and became the exclusive distributor for the University of Kentucky/4-H Legends Calendar. A portion of the proceeds from calendar sales supported the 4-H program. The calendar included photographs of University of Kentucky Wildcat athletics. Each month featured a quote by a 4-H alumnus. The first calendar included quotes from Dr. Charles Wethington, President of the University of Kentucky and Casey County 4-H Alumnus; William “Bill” Sprague, President of Kentucky Farm Bureau Federation and Union County 4-H Alumnus; Brereton C. Jones, Governor of Kentucky and 4-H Alumnus; Granville King, Jefferson County Extension Agent for 4-H and Logan County 4-H Alumnus; Christine Noble Riley, Chair of the Radiology Department at St. Joseph Hospital and Breathitt County 4-H Alumnus; Margie Brookshire, Lifelong 4-H Volunteer and Hart County 4-H Alumnus; Steve Cauthen, Hall of Fame Jockey and Boone County 4-H Alumnus; J. William Corum, Assistant Manager/Director of Operations for Meade County Rural Electric Cooperative and Meade County 4-H Alumnus; Joyce C. Clifford, Harrison County High School Principal, President of the Kentucky 4-H Leaders Council and Owen County 4-H Alumnus; John Conlee, Country Music Superstar and Woodford County 4-H Alumnus; Allen K. Montgomery, Jr., Vice President and General Counsel for Baptist Healthcare System, President of Friends of Kentucky 4-H, Inc. and McLean County 4-H Alumnus; and Martha Layne Collins, Governor of Kentucky and Shelby County 4-H Alumnus.

Legends Calendars were produced from 1996 through 2000. Youth who sold a high volume of calendars were given a “Two Legends Join Hands” tee-shirt.

Workforce Preparation

In the 1990s, the results of a study conducted by the U.S. Department of Labor were released. The Secretary's Committee on Achieving the Necessary Skills (SCANS) Report identified five competencies and three foundation skills needed for employment.
Competencies: 1) Ability to allocate resources; 2) Interpersonal skills; 3) Ability to acquire, evaluate , process and communicate information; 4) Ability to understand social, organizational, and technological systems; 5) Ability to use technology. Foundation Skills: 1) Basic Skills in reading, writing, science, arithmetic, mathematics, speaking, and listening; 2) Abilities to learn, reason, think creatively, make decisions, and solve problems; 3) Personal qualities such as responsibility, self-esteem, self-management, sociability, and integrity.

Surveys showed that most employers have the same needs: workers who are creative and responsible problem solvers and have skills and attitudes on which to build.

The School-to-Work Opportunities Act of 1994 came as a result of employer frustration. Employers reported to the Department of Labor that young adults were not prepared to work when they completed their education. The Department of Labor attempted to evoke change by asking the Department of Education to focus on preparing youth for the workplace. When education was unresponsive, the School-to-Work Act was enacted stating that all students K-12 will have access to both school-based and work-based learning activities. The act went so far as to say that schools could not directly apply for funding. Funding could only be accessed by a "partnership council" made up of a majority of members from business. The act provided seed money for communities to come up with ways that business and schools could work together to prepare youth.

The career project books of 1978 were revised in a way to help schools meet the “School to Work” mandates. Project activities focused on getting kids out into the workplace early to observe people at work. Career shadowing was popular in some counties.

“Reality Store” became a popular eye-opener for middle school youth across Kentucky. Kentucky 4-H did not originate the idea; Kentucky’s activity was actually an adaptation of a similar event by Illinois Cooperative Extension. A large room is furnished with booths representing many of the expenses families incur—housing, transportation, insurance, childcare, entertainment, food, to name a few. The booths are usually staffed by local adults working in some phase of the industry. Youth enter the room with the equivalent of a month’s salary in their chosen career (salary is based on Kentucky early career salary statistics and their choice of career is influenced by current grades and aspirations in post-secondary education). Youth assume the age of 28 and are assigned a “family situation.” Based on the makeup of the family, he/she visits each booth and purchases the goods/services needed by the family. Within an hour, the youth generally figure out the activity’s purpose: 1) family expenses tend to be higher than expected and many are not optional, 2) having a child is expensive, 3) careers have differing salaries, 4) lifestyle is affected by the salary earned, 5) post secondary education is required for most jobs, especially those that result in predictably higher salaries, and 6) the time to start preparing for a career is NOW.

Are You into It? National Public Service Announcement Campaign

In 1996, Kentucky contributed $30,500 in support of a two-year national PSA campaign. The PSAs focused on getting involved in the community through 4-H. The creative works were done by the National Ad Council at a reduced cost and air time was donated. From November 1997 through 1999, the ads appeared around the country. Based on monitors of 5 Kentucky media markets (Louisville, Lexington, Bowling Green, Paducah and Evansville, Indiana), Kentucky received $108,261 in donated media time and space during the two-year period. In the monitored markets, newspaper placements reached an audience of more than 697,931 households. Although not monitored, the ads were available for use in every Kentucky county.

1 1996 4-H Youth Development Department Annual Report.
2 1991 Kentucky 4-H Annual Report and 1998 Highlights KY 4-H Youth Development Department