Section 04: Who Can Belong to 4-H?

4-H membership is open to all youth between the ages of 5 and 18 without regard to ancestry, color, disability or handicap, national origin, race, religious creed, sex, sexual orientation, or place of residence.

Youth Development Through Penn State Extension

Youth development is the process of growing up and developing one’s capacities in positive ways. This typically takes place in the context of the family, the peer group, the school, the neighborhood or community. Youth development is a natural process, but it cannot be left to chance. As the Youth Development Committee of the Lilly Endowment noted:

“Youth Development ought not to be viewed as a happenstance matter. While children can, and often do, make the best of difficult circumstances, they cannot be sustained, and helped to grow by chance arrangements or makeshift events. Something far more intentional is required: a place, a league, a form of association, a gathering of people where value is placed on continuity, predictability, history, tradition, and a chance to test out new behaviors” (Pitman,1991).

The mission of youth development organizations is to provide the challenges, experiences, support, and help young people need to develop to their fullest potential. These community-based organizations work to meet needs in the environment and enhance the learning experiences of young people. No single organization does it all.

Youth development organizations involve young people of all ages and both sexes although some target certain audiences. They encourage long-term involvement and provide a progression of activities promoting developmental growth. They emphasize learning strategies based upon fun, play, action, and group and individual challenges teaching life skills rather than academic lessons. 4-H is the oldest and largest publicly funded youth development organization in the U.S. Begun in the early years of the 20th century as a vehicle for extending the learning of the land-grant university to the children of rural communities, 4-H today has a presence in every county.

Who Can Belong to 4-H?

4-H Membership Policy

4-H membership is open to all youth between the ages of 5 and 18 without regard to ancestry, color, disability or handicap, national origin, race, religious creed, sex, sexual orientation, or place of residence.

4-H Age

Youth must be at least five years old by January 1 of the current year and not be nineteen years old by January 1, to participate in club, county, regional, state, or national 4-H events and activities. Children 5-8 years old participate in the 4-H Cloverbud program (using official Cloverbud curriculum).

4-H Project and Enrollment

For a youth to be considered a 4-H member, he or she must be enrolled in 4HOnline and active in one or more 4-H projects and have the enrollment recorded. All 4-H members must be enrolled through the web-based 4HOnline Enrollment System.

A Pennsylvania 4-H member may not enroll in or exhibit the same project or species in two or more counties for 4-H project completion. (Project levels will not be defined as different projects. In addition, for animal science projects the member may not enroll in the same species project area in two counties.) Youth from other states are permitted to enroll in the Pennsylvania 4-H program provided they follow 4-H policies and procedures.

4HOnline Enrollment System

The online enrollment system for all Pennsylvania 4-H members and volunteers is 4HOnline, which is developed by RegistrationMax LLC. The State 4-H Office and 4HOnline will work closely to monitor and ensure the highest level of protection for information stored on the system. The information entered into 4HOnline will be available to Penn State Extension staff members and designated volunteers. It will not be shared with third parties. Penn State Extension will collect only information which is necessary for participation in 4-H or other Extension activities. Information will be maintained in accordance with Penn State privacy policies. In the 4HOnline system, each must first create a family profile. Once the family profile is set up individual youth and volunteer members may be added to the family account. Detailed instructions are outlined in the User’s Guide.

Please note: As part of the enrollment or re-enrollment process each year; member, leaders, and parents will digitally sign documents including the code of conduct, acknowledgement of risk, and photo release. Digital signatures are legally binding; therefore, Extension staff or volunteers cannot sign on behalf of other families to enroll members. It is the responsibility of each family to enroll themselves unless an accommodation is requested.

The guidelines below are to be used for planning, developing, and providing meaningful educational and project level experiences for the following age divisions:

Cloverbud* .................................ages 5 to 7

Introductory ................................ages 8 to 10

Primary .......................................ages 11 to 12

Intermediate ................................ages 13 to 15

Advanced....................................ages 16 to 18

*The 4-H Cloverbud program is for children ages 5-7 years old. There is specific, age appropriate curriculum to be used with 4-H Cloverbuds. Only those approved curricula are to be used with this age group.



An organized group of youth (ages 5-19), led by a minimum of two screened adult volunteers, with a planned program, and meets the quality standards identified below.

Types of Clubs:

• Community and project clubs typically meet in the evenings or on weekends and offer self-chosen multiple learning experiences and activities.

• In-school clubs meet during school hours, but have planned activities beyond school enrichment.

• 4-H after-school clubs are organized within after-school programs administered by Penn State Extension staff or other organizations (i.e. other youth development organizations, housing authorities, faith-based groups). They meet the above definition of a 4-H Club and the young people and adult staff identify themselves as 4-H members and volunteers. They have elements of a club structure.

• Military 4-H clubs may be organized by the armed forces, often on military installations, or by military families living in the same geographic area but belonging to Guard or Reserve units not connected to installations.

Quality Standards for 4H Clubs:

• Club meetings are held at least 6 times per year.

• Planned club program includes a minimum of six hours of enrichment including business meetings, educational programming and recreational activities.

• Club officers are elected or leadership roles are assigned based on the age of the youth.

• Club members are individually enrolled in 4HONLINE.

• The club uses approved Penn State Extension 4-H curriculum as the basis for the educational programming.

• Each year, club members complete a project book. If a project book is designed for use over multiple years, the member completes the minimum yearly requirement identified in the project book.

• The organizational leader attends at least one leader training each year.

• All club volunteers meet policy expectations including annual background checks and completion of reporting child abuse training.

• New leaders attend new leader orientation.

• Club planning is done by club members and meetings are run by club officers.

• A sequential and varied learning experience matching all skill levels of club members is provided.

• Each member of the club does an in-club demonstration or presentation every year.

• Club financial audits must be submitted to the Extension Office at the end of each year.

• Yearly service learning projects/community service projects are completed.

Refund Policy

The Pennsylvania State 4-H Program Fee is non-refundable once your 4HOnline record has been approved by the Extension Educator. Additional County Programming fees are subject to county specific refund policies. Please check with your County Extension office for their refund policy for County Programming fees.

Opportunity Fund

Pennsylvania 4-H recognizes the right and responsibility of every 4-H member to contribute to the costs of participating in the 4-H program to the best of his/her ability. The Opportunity Funds are intended to help ensure that all youth are able to participate in the 4-H program regardless of ability to pay. The form is found on 4-5.


4-H is a program that can benefit all youth, but sometimes the membership of project and community clubs does not represent the diversity of youth in the community. Please help by looking at how you recruit new members, identify meeting locations, and plan club activities, to ensure that all reasonable efforts are made to include all interested youth. Involving youth of other races and cultures, youth with disabilities, and youth that have not traditionally been in the 4-H program, benefits everyone. A broader understanding of all people and diverse experiences for all members and leaders are possible. For more information also see VIP Fact Sheet 12: Civil Rights Responsibilities of Penn State Extension Volunteers.

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Section 04: Who Can Belong to 4-H?


V.I.P. Facts 4

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