Local 4-H program survives county cuts
December 22, 2009
King County officials nixed a plan last week to put the local 4-H program out to pasture.
A last-minute, $109,000 infusion from the King County Council will keep the program afloat for another year. The youth organization with agricultural roots now includes offerings in things such as plant science, horse riding and robotics.
Local 4-H’ers will also have somewhere to showcase their handiwork: The council allocated $50,000 to continue the King County Fair — the oldest fair west of the Mississippi River.
Councilman Reagan Dunn, who represents unincorporated King County south of Issaquah, said the outcry from 4-H participants and parents prompted the council to adjust the budget.
“I’m glad that we were able to scrape together enough funding for another year, because 4-H is so important to the youth of my district,” Dunn said in a statement released after the Dec. 14 council decision. “I have heard from hundreds of parents and students who participate or have participated in the program. I have seen them in action at the King County Fair. It was very sad to think that the program might end.”
Officials decided to cut money for 4-H as they worked to fill a $56 million county budget gap. After officials announced the cut, however, 4-H supporters rallied to preserve money for the program.The council noted how the local 4-H program used county dollars to leverage additional support, but without county money, the program would not survive.
The county executive and council make quarterly adjustments to the annual county budget. Officials allocated money for the fair and 4-H through such a supplement after supporters deluged council members with calls, e-mails and letters, asking the council to find money for the programs.
How long 4-H and the fair can be sustained remains uncertain. More cuts are forecast for next year: County officials face a $50 million deficit in 2011.
Officials had threatened to cut fair dollars for years, but the decision to eliminate the 4-H program was a new development, 4-H parent volunteer Chris Weber, of Issaquah, said before the Dec. 14 announcement. Her daughters Callie, 17, and Sydney, 14, participate in the program.
The county 4-H program includes more than 9,000 participants and volunteers, said Brad Gaolach, King County extension program director for Washington State University.
“All WSU extension programs are based on the instruction of higher education,” he said. “We bring the most up-to-date research and information back from the university to the community, and use that as our educational framework.”
Far from its rural roots, modern 4-H programs teach children how to raise animals and foster life skills. Participants also venture into basic genetics, and learn how to breed certain animals together to isolate and re-create certain genes in offspring. Callie Weber said 4-H makes genetics in high school courses a breeze. The program also helps 4-H’ers envision possible career fields.
Sydney Weber, 14, has autism and 4-H provides a place where she can learn to express herself, make friends and learn life skills to lead her to additional schooling and a career.
“It makes me feel happy,” she said. “I have made lots of friends here. I can also present and show my rabbits.”
County Councilwoman Kathy Lambert, who represents Issaquah and large rural areas in District 3, said 4-H plays a key role in the county.
“We in King County are justifiably proud of our agricultural heritage and ongoing support for local farmers who supply fresh, high-quality, healthy food to our citizens,” Lambert said in a statement released after the Dec. 14 decision. “Supporting our next generation of farmers is a crucial role for us to play if we are to maintain a vital agricultural community in the future.
Impromptu civics lesson
Gaolach — who holds a doctorate in zoology from the University of Washington — said he sees benefits in 4-H beyond the usual horticulture and livestock programs.
“It’s not just about raising a sheep,” he said. “That’s just the thing that attracts them to the program. They are learning responsibility, citizenship and other life skills by raising that sheep or in our other programs that stress youth development, like our robotics program, hip hop and spoken word. We’re about what actually engages youth.”
Lambert said the council weighed the outcry from 4-H’ers and volunteers when officials threatened to pull funds for the program. The former schoolteacher said the push to restore 4-H dollars provided another valuable lessons: civics.
“In addition to agriculture projects, the youth involved in 4-H learn a lot about civics, such as the flood of testimony they presented about the benefits of the program during our budget deliberations,” she said. “In response, we worked together to keep this important program going next year.”
4-H’ers and Master Gardeners — part of another program eyed for cutbacks — rallied against the proposed cuts Nov. 29 outside Key Arena. Callie Weber, a Liberty High School student, was in the crowd.
“There are so many benefits to the kids who cycle through this program,” she said. “We learn so much from it.”
Chantelle Lusebrink: 392-6434, ext. 241, or email@example.com. Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.