Updates from District Director, Craig Altemose

Posted: December 18, 2014

District 7 is piloting a shift in focus for state 4-H programs to invest more time in club activities.

In order to create a lasting business model that can operate with fewer resources and expand the services we offer to more people, it's going to be necessary for Penn State Extension to undergo some restructuring in the coming year. The upside of this restructuring is that it has opened a door for our staff and volunteers to be creative, look at all programs, and examine how we operate to see where we can be more efficient. We have been asking our staff, volunteers, financial contributors and clients to help us assess how we might do better. Of course, in some cases we really have no choice but to change how we do things, but it can also be exciting and fun to entertain new ideas and know that our administration is open to hearing them.

Over the past three years in our district and in Penn State Extension as a whole, staff and volunteers have invested a considerable amount of their time into our programs, even as we have been implementing new policies and changes to our operating structure. This process has been particularly evident in in our 4-H program. We have heard from our volunteers about the stress that adjusting to these new policies can bring, and the time that has been necessary to implement them, in addition to the already significant time investment spent delivering 4-H programming. Staff members are feeling that same stress. In our first two and half years as a district, the 4-H staff has undergone a complete turnover. As a result, district and state administration are examining what is causing the most stress to see what we can do improve efficiency and reduce pressure on staff and volunteers. In the spring, our administration gave District 7 the go-ahead to study our 4-H Program and propose changes. Penn State Extension has approved some of those proposed changes for our district to try as a pilot for the state.

The changes center on having consistent policy to follow in all four counties in the district for all our clubs. Our emphasis is and will be on reducing workload and pressure on our staff and volunteers while putting more emphasis on 4-H Club activity and opportunities to grow 4-H in our district. Administration supports the changes we are making and we hope our boards and volunteers will as well.

District 7 changes to be implemented to increase time investment in club activities:

  • having an Achievement Night in every county
  • more in-depth club officer training
  • a teen leadership program
  • more training and guidance for new volunteers
  • an annual 4-H Open House
  • a Livestock Day – including GPP Training
  • more training opportunities for all volunteers
  • more emphasis on fundraising

In three out of four of our counties, we have decided not to participate in 4-H Camp this year. The counties not participating in 4-H Camp for 2015 are Clearfield, Centre, and Clinton counties. We hope to invest the time we use to put into 4-H Camp (1.5 to 2 months of staff and volunteer time) into the efforts described above.

We know that 4-H Camp is well-liked (about 10% of our 4-H membership attend) and that it has value in building life skills. However, we think these skills can also be built through increased emphasis on club activities which will actually grow our membership. We want to try this approach, because we think it will be a more efficient use of staff and volunteer time. As I said before, we are trying these new things as part of a pilot program, and while we have confidence in our strategy, you never really know whether new things will work unless you try them. So we ask our staff, volunteers, members and parents to keep an open mind and be patient as we implement changes.