The mission of 4-H is to develop citizenship, leadership, responsibility and life skills in youth through experiential learning programs and a positive approach, tapping into the organizations’ original motto of “head, heart, hands, and health.”

With COVID-19, no part of that goal has changed — though the way the program coordinators are making it happen has.

“There are a lot of kids out there with that void for the summer, a lot has been canceled or changed in their world,” said Tracy Ignaszewski, the program coordinator for the Steele County 4-H. “We starting talking and thinking as an area, maybe there are other things and ways that we can still connect.”

Working in collaboration with the 4-H groups in Waseca, Rice and Freeborn counties, virtual programs have started popping up in the area to continue to serve 4-H students and promote the organizations values and goals. Taking the same approach as many companies, municipal boards, and civic groups, the 4-H crew has resorted to Zoom conference calls as a way to connect with area children.

“I’m not sure if I was inspired by something or if it just kind of came to me,” said Amy Nelson, the program coordinator for the Waseca County 4-H, who started a virtual supper club for the local 4-H kids. “Some of the challenges for our youth is that they may not have access to supplies, and when we are face-to-face we can solve that by bringing our tote of stuff with them. But, everyone needs to eat, and families are at home – so it seemed like a no-brainer to work on some cooking skills that will be lifelong.”

For the last couple of weeks, Nelson has logged on to Zoom to walk through the process of cooking a meal from the very beginning to the end. She said that registered participants are given the recipe and ingredients list a few days prior to the meeting so that they can be prepared for the virtual cooking session.

“Of course being face-to-face would be more fun, but this has been really fun,” Nelson said. “They are still able to ask questions, when we are chopping vegetables we tilt our screens down so we can see what each other are doing, and we can still interact with one another while teaching some new skills.”

Nelson said that she has been receiving feedback from her Supper Club participants on what they thought of the activity and how their families enjoyed the meals they prepared. She added that seeing parents post on social media about their child’s accomplishment is always fun and gratifying as well.

The Supper Club in Waseca County has been going over so well that Ignaszewski is adapting the program for Steele County 4-H kids, as well as any area child who would like to participate. While the meals are cooking, the group will hear from featured speakers or learn a different lesson related to culinary arts, nutrition, or even budgeting.

“These are the type of things we can easily open up to our neighboring counties,” Ignaszewski said. “If we have to do a Zoom call for 40 kids, why not do it for 60 and be able to all do it together. With that kind of outreach we will be able to serve more kids.”

Ignaszewski said the Steele County 4-H group has already utilized Zoom for other programs with the kids, including a Super Science Saturday that took place at the end of April. That weekend, 45 kids from Steele County received a science kit in the mail and signed on to the video chat platform to do a lesson together.


In Rice County, 4-H Program Coordinator Kelly Chadwick said they kicked off their virtual programs by providing an interactive 30-day challenge via social media. Chadwick said that the challenge promoted kids interaction with their families and finding different things to do.

“We’re always looking for new challenges to put out there and keep the kids busy trying different things,” Chadwick said. “It’s tough for us to not be in person working with the kids, it’s a huge part of our job, but a lot of good things are already out there so we don’t have to recreate the wheel as we provide different opportunities for our kids.”

Chadwick agrees that it’s hard not to be able to continue to connect in-person with the kids she serves, it has been amazing to see how the organizations are able to be innovative while staying true to the 4-H mission.

“This all just speaks to what 4-H is all about,” Chadwick said. “It’s just ringing true to what our organization believes in, we’re just doing it a bit differently now.”

One thing that the 4-H groups have always provided that they are determined to continue is the annual 4-H camp. While they won’t be having an in-person camp, Ignaszewski said that they are gearing up to provide a virtual camp from June 15-17.

“Camp will still happen,” said an excited Ignaszewski. “We have 15 counselors who are putting together lessons and will be sending out videos, connecting on Zoom, providing virtual campfires with singing, and even sending out videos of them beating on some pots and pans to wake up the campers and get them out of bed in the morning.”

With the programming taking on such a different look virtually, Nelson admitted that it was intimidating at first, but that it’s evolved into something fun and potentially permanent in some areas of the 4-H world.

“It has been interesting to see how this has shaped our programming,” Nelson said. “I don’t think a lot of people considered doing our work this way, but there is a lot we can do know when we can’t get together because of schedules.”

Ignaszewski agreed that the silver-lining of being apart has shown what the future of 4-H could look like.

“This forced us to look at and do things differently,” Ignaszewski said. “But some of these things might really work, and hopefully some of this stuff will stick when we look at next year.”

Reach Reporter Annie Granlund at 507-444-2378 or follow her on Twitter @OPPAnnie. ©Copyright 2020 APG Media of Southern Minnesota.

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