For more than a year, Mason County 4-H has been working to bring quality programming virtually to area youth. The virtual programing has been due to the COVID pandemic, but the programming is heading towards a return to more in-person, according to Aaron Myers, the Mason County 4-H Program Coordinator.

Last week, Mason County 4-H was cleared to begin working towards in-person events once again.

Myers said 4-H never really shut down or went anywhere during the pandemic.

“This past year, despite how chaotic COVID has made it for Michigan 4-H, it has really been, what I like to call, a digital renaissance,” Myers said. “Within a span of about two weeks we were able to transfer so much programming material into a virtual setting via Zoom events.”

To be able to switch gears so quickly is a credit to the hard working employees and volunteers within the organization, whose mission is “engaging youth to reach their fullest potential while advancing the field of youth development.”

If anyone would have told them in 2018 or 2019 that 4-H would operating on an all-virtual level, organizers would have thought those people were nuts, Myers said jokingly.

“Despite our tremendous strides in virtual programming, programming that we are still going to be utilizing, it is very good to say we are once again to a point that we can, on a limited basis, begin to return to face-to-face programming in 4-H,” Myers said.

What will happen is staff and volunteers will have to submit proposals for face-to-face programming to both Mason County 4-H and the state 4-H programs. Those proposals will need to meet certain benchmarks like social distancing and meet preferably outdoors with a way to enforce mask wearing during the event, according to Myers.

“A volunteer would need to submit the proposal and then go through a specific training in order to meet face-to-face,” Myers said. “The training is based on how best to implement mask wearing and social distancing and how to explain to the public why those things are still necessary.

“As has been the case for the past year, 4-H’s primary concern will be the safety of our participants, volunteers, and the community that we call home,” Myers wrote in a press release. “Therefore, all approved face to face events will meet the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Michigan DHHS guidelines as well as the MSU Community Compact. Regular 4-H Club meetings can resume but must be authorized by the state and local 4-H offices on a monthly basis. Community events such as horse shows and animal clinics can take place with approval from the state and local 4-H offices.”

Myers is hoping that this will allow the youth to get together in a safe environment and allow them to get back into the habit of working on projects together, socializing and taking part in a lot of the activities that 4-H is knowns for like building better citizens and helping children grow as adults.

Myers said that programming virtually especially regular 4-H Club meeting has proven to be difficult but a lot of the individual activates the members have been able to do have gone over well.

“This has been a happy bi-product of going to virtual,” he said. “Our 4-Hers in Mason County can take part in 4-H events that are put on in Muskegon County or Wayne County and kids from those counties can take part in our programming. It has really broadened access to a lot of the great programs that we offer in 4-H as a whole. The kids have gotten access to a lot more opportunity.”

Myers said 4-H at its heart, whether you are doing it in-person or virtual subscribes to out motto “Make the Best Better.”

“As long as kids are learning responsibility, learning valuable life skills and community involvement, either in a virtual or in-person platform, that is what 4-H is all about,” he said.

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