TeWinkel reached out to young people for 4-H

WATERLOO, Iowa — Mary TeWinkel, an Iowa State University Extension youth development field specialist, worked with many agencies to reach out to children who wouldn’t typically join 4-H during her 31 years on the job. She developed programs with the Boys and Girls Club and organized after school programming at schools.

"We took kids fishing to get them outside," she said.

While these were different sorts of 4-H programs, TeWinkel always stressed the skills that are at the core of the 4-H program — citizenship, leadership and communication.

TeWinkel organized a Bosnian 4-H Club in the county.

"It was probably the only Bosnian club in the country," she said. "We had 35 Bosnian kids coming to meetings. We involved some of our traditional 4-H members as helpers and they learned about Bosnian culture."


Because most of the Bosnian families did not have cars, TeWinkel rented a van to transport the children to and from the meetings. Black Hawk County has since reached out to the Latino community.

In its 16th year, the Black Hawk County 4-H Omelette Breakfast, which TeWinkel helped organize, has been a strong fundraiser. More than 1,200 attend the breakfast with proceeds funding 4-H programs.

TeWinkel created the Black Hawk County 4-H Foundation which has raised $250,000 to help support the county fair. The county has the biggest endowment in the state.

"I did these things with the help of a lot of great volunteers," TeWinkel said. "I wouldn’t have been able to do my work without them."

Some things about 4-H have changed over the years, TeWinkel said. Often, both parents work outside the home now which makes for very busy schedules. To accommodate that, volunteer leader training has moved to nights instead of during the day.

Young people have many more demands on their time with sports and other school activities making it more difficult to schedule 4-H meetings.

"4-H is a family organization, and we try to make parents understand that we want them involved," TeWinkel said.

The interests of young people have changed. 4-H is no longer just cows and cooking. Computers, science and technology, Legos and shooting sports are all programs available to young people.


Even though much has changed, learning the life skills of respect, responsibility and caring is the same.

"That won’t ever change," TeWinkel said.

She has always been game to try something new.

"We were always looking for new ways to reach kids in a different way," she said. "If it didn’t work, you tried something else."

For her efforts in working with urban youth, TeWinkel was honored last fall with the Excellence in Urban Programming Award at the National Association of 4-H Agents Convention in New York.

"It was a nice honor to be recognized for the efforts we’ve made to reach new and under-served audiences," she said.

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