October 1 starts the biggest week in 4-H, National 4-H Week. 4-H membership is 6 million strong across the country, with more than 25 million alumni.
Last year, more than 25,000 youth were 4-H club members in Illinois; another 170,000 youth were involved in 4-H through camps, after school programs, and school enrichment programs.
National 4-H Week is a big deal, especially to the dedicated members who get to display what 4-H means to them during this national celebration. It is a time for window displays in local businesses, 4-H t-shirts at school, science experiments, and recruitment parties, lots of parties!
I left 4-H before I had time to truly appreciate what 4-H could mean to me and my future. When I went to work for 4-H, I was determined to keep other kids from making the same mistake I did. Each year at the annual achievement program, I'd call every child on stage as a group by their year in 4-H.
After the applause ended, I had the first, second, and third year members turn around to look at the older kids, those fifth year and older kids standing in the back row. And, I said this to the youngest members; "You're just getting started, and though you've had a good time and learned lots of stuff this year, the AMAZING stuff in 4-H happens when you get to the back row!"
And, it's true. The trips, the awards, the internships, the international travel, the national conferences all take time to experience. The more you learn and the older you get, the more the 4-H world opens up to you.
Unless. Unless you quit before you're a backrower.
My challenge was simple… year in and year out. Be a back row 4-H member. It was a simple idea that stuck with them. Without fail, every achievement night, at least one of those kids who made it to the back row came up to me and announced themselves as a "backrow" 4-H member.
I have lots of dreams for Illinois 4-H members. Health. Success. Friendship. Service. Most of all, I hope you will all be backrowers and discover the wonderful treasures awaiting you in 4-H. I hope your 4-H memories make you smile.