Trailin': 4-H — More than the Fair

Posted 7/22/99

It’s fair time, and this time of year when we think of 4-H we are aware of all the preparation and…

By Tina Turney

It’s fair time, and this time of year when we think of 4-H we are aware …

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Trailin': 4-H — More than the Fair


It’s fair time, and this time of year when we think of 4-H we are aware of all the preparation and…

By Tina Turney

It’s fair time, and this time of year when we think of 4-H we are aware of all the preparation and hard work involved in getting ready for the county fairs. All the projects, from mechanics and cooking to horses and chickens, require a huge time and work commitment on the part of the kids, their families and the volunteer 4-H leaders. The anticipation and then the showing and being judged are part of what being in 4-H is all about.

And 4-H is much more than all that goes on during fair week. Another aspect of 4-H and ISU Extension is a program referred to as GAP (Group Activities Programs). I became aware of GAP and what it has to offer to rural and city kids due to my daughter Annabelle being hired as a summer worker for the Johnson County program.

To find out about the history of GAP, I contacted Janet Martin. She is involved in youth development activities through ISU Extension and was in the Johnson County office for several years when my kids were 4-H members in Ramblin’ Recks and Rosies and the Horse and Pony Club. She now works as a field specialist in youth development in Linn, Cedar and Johnson Counties.

Janet was kind enough to give me this history, from her memory, on the summer GAP program:

“In the early 1980s, 4-H on Wheels, now called GAP, began as a ‘hands on’ summer educational program to reach seven- to twelve-year old youth not currently involved in 4-H programming. The program staff traveled to rural communities, mobile home communities and parks in Johnson County.

“Each summer the program has moved to a different location each morning and afternoon for 7-8 weeks. A two-hour program has been conducted at each site; activities include science, art, recreation, nutrition and snacks. The program emphasizes ‘hands on’ learning with youth. The format of the program has remained fairly constant; during the last 10 years the educational emphasis has been related to science.

“During the last 20 years Johnson County/ISU Extension Council has supported a variety of youth development programs, including the 4-H community club program, 4-H on Wheels/GAP, Big Brothers/Big Sisters and Clover Kids. The Extension Council and staff have believed in the importance of reaching a diverse youth audience in Johnson County. Innovative programs have been developed to meet ‘unmet’ youth needs in the county.

“The Johnson County Extension Council, through Big Brothers/Big Sisters grants funding, and through specially designated federal urban community development and nutrition Extension funds, has funded 4-H on Wheels/GAP.”

GAP reaches kids at several locations in Iowa City and the surrounding towns of Hills, Lone Tree, North Liberty and Solon. This summer GAP is staffed by Annabelle Burns, Becky Perry and Russ Hughes.

Several weeks ago I visited the GAP site in the park at Hills. The subject for the week was “Bubble Mania” which had been planned out by Janet Martin. All the activities, crafts and snacks were centered around the bubble theme.

The group was made up of seven boys all from Hills and the two staffers Annabelle and Becky. Becky is an elementary education major at the University of Iowa and is from Naperville, Illinois. After seeing an ad for the job in the paper, she thought it would be good experience and relate well to her studies in college. She said how much she enjoys being with the kids and seeing the excitement on their faces with the new experiences. She also feels that the program is making a difference in their lives. Becky also mentioned how impressed she is with the program itself and the people who run it.

Annabelle added her thoughts on the program, “4-H has been a very important part of my life. GAP is a great opportunity for me to share some of the skills I’ve gained through 4-H with the kids. We focus on having fun and teaching the kids a different topic each week. So far we’ve learned about things that fly, bubbles, dinosaurs and our bones and health. We’re planning to take the kids to the 4-H fair next week. I’m excited to show them some of the exhibits and projects I was involved in while in 4-H.”

Russ Hughes is a recent Iowa graduate in elementary education and the third staff member this summer. He shared some thoughts on working with GAP. “This is a wonderful program for kids and parents in the Iowa City area. It gives the kids a great outlet to have fun and enrich their social and creative skills. The staff at the Extension office has been great to work with and driving the Sunshine Van can’t be beat! I encourage anyone who loves to work with kids and likes the outdoors to get involved with this program.”

4-H has been and continues to be a positive influence for kids and their families here in Iowa. And it has changed with the times, thanks to the efforts of people like Janet Martin, to meet the needs of both rural and city kids.

The Washington County Fair is in full swing this week. Be sure to attend and take in all the exhibits and judging of the 4-H projects. Next week will be the Johnson County Fair in Iowa City. This year the fairgrounds has a new larger rabbit barn which will be occupied for the first time. There’s something for everyone at the fair!