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OP-ED: HOW 4-H CAN BRIDGE THE URBAN-RURAL DIVIDE
Source: by Lynn Hinderaker of Omaha in an innovation expert and former Iowa Boys 4-H president as the op-ed ran in the Des Moines Register.

Rural Americans detest urban values. They suspect urbanites are amoral, cynical and not to be trusted. In contrast, urbanites think rural Americans are behind the times and not particularly smart. These two segments of our society are clearly polarized.

Thankfully, every thinking person realizes that Americans must embrace unity. We must keep talking until shared values emerge. We must find a bridge over troubled waters.
What few Americans realize is that there actually is a bridge in place today that connects rural and urban Americans. Seven million people walk across this bridge already. 3.5 million are "city kids" and the other 3.5 million are farm kids.

The bridge is called 4-H.

The 4-H bridge operates in dense cities and in sparsely populated counties across the nation. The bridge brings Hispanics, African-Americans and country kids together inside a paradigm of selflessness, self-discipline and self-improvement. This grassroots collaboration uplifts all members of society.

The 4-H bridge is built upon four durable pillars:

Intellectual: This pillar supports critical thinking, something Americans need desperately today.

Emotional: This pillar fosters a positive attitude and loyalty in relationships.

Behavioral: This pillar helps us serve the greater good in tangible and unselfish ways.

Physical: This fourth sturdy pillar reminds us that physical vitality is needed to work with diverse peoples across the globe.

The 4-H bridge began to be built in the summer of 1970 after I was given the opportunity to speak publicly to former Secretary of Agriculture Clifford Hardin at the National 4-H Congress. My message? 4-H was great, but it needed to be more socially relevant. 4-H youth should find a way to help minorities and the economically distressed. We were more capable than the Department of Agriculture and most adults imagined, I insisted.

"Please empower us in some way," I said. "In so doing, you empower yourselves."

Within a couple months of that speech in Washington, D.C., I was working with the Iowa State University Extension team to set up a 4-H club program in the basement of Forest Avenue Baptist Church in the inner city of Des Moines. Many African-American kids in this neighborhood had no place to go after school and were prone to getting in trouble.

Forest Avenue Baptist Church was where the very first urban 4-H program in the entire system was prototyped. In three months, we launched bicycle, safety and pet clubs and bus trips to the farm 30 minutes outside the city.

Here's what you would see outside our urban 4-H headquarters: boom boxes blaring disco music, basketball hoops dangling from backboards, chipped sidewalks, random threats of violence and pimps and hookers.

Inside our urban 4-H headquarters? Young folks reciting the 4-H mantra: "I pledge my head to clearer thinking, my heart to greater loyalty..." The contrast was fascinating.

This is where the 4-H cultural bridge was built. This is where rural values and urban values were merged into something new, usable and sustainable. It is a touchstone, a benchmark and a success formula.

The bridge between urban and rural culture has been built, nurtured and proven. It was built with a hodge-podge of under-paid, passionate people who were given the chance to experiment with modest resources in Des Moines in the steaming summer of 1970.

Walk the bridge. Give unity a new chance. If you're unsure where to begin, ask a 4-H member - the younger, the better.


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