Berks County 4-H Club work actually began in 1907, when Berks County Superintendent of Schools, Eli M. Rapp, encouraged boys and girls to exhibit farm and home products during Teachers Institute Week.

He was inspired by the similar work of school superintendents across the nation and Dr. Seaman Knapp of the U.S.D.A. The Berks County Agricultural and Home Economics Extension began serving the public in 1914. In that year the enrollment in 4-H Agricultural Clubs totaled 25 youth. During the first 25 years of operation, enrollment totaled 1,904 and peaked in 1935 with 184 members.

Extension staff members attended every 4-H club meeting in the early years. Eventually, adult leaders began to assume more responsibility for organizing and teaching their 4-H clubs. They attended district 4-H leader trainings. In the late 1950’s, junior leaders began to emerge in clubs. These were youth who were interested in assisting their leaders in running the club.

Traditional 4-H clubs have always been existed in rural, suburban and urban communities reaching a cross section of the county’s youth. In 1975, however, Berks County 4-H began collaborating with other youth serving agencies to serve the youth in the city of Reading. The first collaborations were with the Reading Housing Authority’s Oakbrook and Glenside sites and the Children’s Home of Reading. We continue to collaborate with the Children’s Home of Reading in 2003.

While piloted in 1974, a concentrated effort in school enrichment programming began in 1979 with the introduction of the Black Locust 4-H (forestry) Project, which was offered to Berks County Schools through 1989. In 1985 the 4-H Embryology Project was piloted followed by the 4-H Meet the Plants Project in 1988. School enrichment programming has grown tremendously over the years. The 2002 enrollment in the 4-H Meet the Plants Project totaled 880, and the 4-H Embryology Project enrollment was 3,749.

Contributed by Deborah A. Dietrich, Extension Educator/4-H Coordinator