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Cooperative spiritEpisode 172

4-H develops future leaders

Matthew Wilde
Jul 2, 2024

Developing young leaders and giving them tools to succeed is vital to the future of rural America and agriculture. For decades, 4-H has helped young people build their skills and capabilities to make the world a better place.

The cooperative system supports 4-H in many ways, says Tera Stoddard, a senior stewardship specialist with CHS. Hundreds of local co-ops provide financial support for 4-H programs at county fairs and throughout the year. The CHS Foundation donated $1 million over the past two years to the organization to help enhance diversity, inclusion and equity so more youth can benefit from 4-H initiatives.

“It’s essential to support 4-H’ers in all levels during their journey through the program,” Stoddard says.

She says the shared values of 4-H and cooperatives make the partnership work. “Cooperatives and the CHS Foundation are dedicated to developing a diverse pipeline of leaders for agriculture. 4-H is an important partner providing important lifelong skills and showing youth what agriculture is all about.”

What makes 4-H unique?

As a former 10-year 4-H member, Stoddard is intimately familiar with the organization. She says 4-H helps young people develop confidence, public speaking and communication skills and instills the value of teamwork.

“I was super shy when I first joined 4-H. I was terrified to show livestock because I thought everyone was staring at me,” Stoddard recalls. “It took a few years to learn it wasn’t about me and more about the animal and the learning experience.”

But 4-H is more than livestock and ag projects. Youth can learn about robotics, photography and more.

“It’s an organization that can help students find their passion and chart their future,” Stoddard says.

Mentorship and career readiness

4-H members range from third through 12th grade. Stoddard says there’s many opportunities for youth to collaborate, with older members often providing guidance to younger 4-H’ers.

“When you think about a career, whether in agriculture or other sectors, there’s often mentorship that occurs where you learn from others. When you develop teaching and learning skills at a young age, that serves people well,” Stoddard says.

4-H prepares students for future careers, she continues. “Learning to present information and carry on a conversation and being able to defend the reason you did something are skills 4-H members may not even realize they are learning.”


The diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives within 4-H provide members, regardless of beliefs and backgrounds, a voice to express who they are and how they make their lives and communities better. CHS financial support is helping to incorporate DEI into existing 4-H programming and gives 4-H members opportunities to attend conferences to discuss and develop DEI initiatives to take back to their communities.

“It empowers youth to be change-makers and gives them tools and skills to make a difference. In communities where DEI conversations are just beginning, students can play a significant role,” Stoddard says.

Learn about CHS stewardship programs, including matching grants for member cooperatives to help strengthen their communities.

Learn more about 4-H.

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