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Katie Pinke's daughters, pictured in the middle, shoot archery at a North Dakota 4-H Shooting Sports event in West Fargo, N.D., in the winter of 2018. (Katie Pinke/ Agweek/ Forum News Service)

11 reasons (+1 bonus) why I am thankful for 4-H

This week, we are celebrating National 4-H week. Nearly 6 million youth experience hands-on skill and leadership development and mentorship opportunities through Cooperative Extension in every county across the United States. Cooperative Extension is run through 100 public universities and reaches our urban, suburban and rural communities.

My mom likes to tease the "4-H gene" skipped a generation in our family. An avid 4-Her in her youth, she tried to get me interested in 4-H and drove me to a horse specific 4-H club to try to spark my interest. I didn't stick with it, though.

Elizabeth Pinke, 10, has learned project planning, how to follow directions and the ability to complete projects through 4-H.Our son started 4-H when we lived in suburbia Fargo but didn't continue when we moved to our rural home when he was older. Our girls are active 4-Hers now. My husband and I are both active volunteers. I'm an avid sports mom, but their growth on the court or field isn't my favorite activity to watch — it's the 4-H activities that develop their skills and leadership.

4-H is the most rewarding organization our daughters are a part of. My hope is that you'll call or stop by your local Extension office to learn more or find a club near you. Sign up your kids or grandkids and then you do the same as a volunteer.

Here are 11 things I've observed in our daughters, ages 9 and 10, as a direct result of their 4-H experiences:

Elizabeth Pinke, age 10, is a blue ribbon baker thanks to the skills she learned through 4-H leadership and skills development.1. Positive relationships with different groups of kids and adults. Let's face it. Being a kid is tough and finding new friends outside of school or sports is greatly beneficial.

2. Volunteering in our community. Our daughters have cleaned ditches, among other volunteer opportunities, which has reinforced the importance of taking care of public places and never littering.

3. Learning by doing, which is part of the 4-H pledge and mission. Learning comes to life in a variety of ways based on the chosen projects and activities. Our kids have learned how to set a dinner table, work with leather and wood, garden, craft ceramics and, their absolute favorite winter activity, archery.

4. How to run a meeting. This is an intimidating skill and one that will pay off in future public service and volunteer efforts. This is one skill I had to learn as an adult that I wish I would have stuck with 4-H to learn.

5. What it means to be a member of an organization. Membership isn't simply signing up, paying dues and showing up. It's about making an investment and stepping outside your comfort zone to grow your skills. Our girls have a greater sense of community and purpose than their dad and I could ever teach them because of being an active 4-H member.

6. How to create a project plan. Our girls both have created their own project plans and saw a project through to completion and exhibit at the county fair. That satisfaction is greater than any video game or sports win.

7. Attention to detail. One of our daughters was disappointed her photography project received a red ribbon but the judge shared her concerns with the focus of the photo. I knew the picture was out of focus but I didn't tell her that. The judge's remarks and the red ribbon, instead of a blue, left her with a lasting life lesson, more powerful than anything I would have done as her mom.

Anika Pinke, age 9, displayed her stained glass project for the McIntosh County 4-H Achievement Days in July 2018.8. How to follow directions. Life is about following directions — in the classroom and at home and at college and in future jobs.

9. Record keeping. It might seem irrelevant to young kids right now, but when it comes to bank accounts and taxes, this skill will pay off in dividends in their lives.

10. Career paths and job opportunities. Our kids have visited and toured local businesses, met adults with unique skill sets, been in dairy barns to watch milking, toured a honey company, which expands their career options.

11. Public speaking. Whether it's speaking to their club, creating a demonstration, showcasing a skill or presenting a project to a judge and taking feedback, I've watched nervous, unsure children blossom into confident young leaders from the public speaking development 4-H offers.

Lastly, and one not on the list that isn't talked about enough, is mental health. One in five children ages 13 to 18 have or will have a serious mental illness. Suicide is the third leading cause of death for our youth ages 10 to 24.

I have no expertise in mental health other than personal experience. I'm not suggesting participating in 4-H is a cure to a mental illness. However, it does create healthy relationships and skills to overcome obstacles.

As a mom and leader, I know all kids and youth need more love and leadership, which they can find in 4-H programs. For that, I am grateful for 4-H. Thank you to those who serve our youth through 4-H.

Are you a past 4-H member? Are you a 4-H volunteer? I'd love to hear why you're thankful for the organization. Find me in social media, @katpinke on Twitter or send me an email kpinke@agweek.com

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