This past Friday, Santa Barbara County released its draft budget in advance of hearings during the week of June 10-15. As previously noted, on the chopping block is the county contribution to the University of California Cooperative Extension and, within this item, the county’s contribution to the 4-H Youth Development Program.

The 4-H Youth Development Program has been a legacy within programs of Santa Barbara County since the mid-1920s, providing educational and leadership opportunities for generations of Santa Barbara’s young people. Cooperative Extension has brought the educational resources and technological acumen of the world’s great universities to bear on the real-world challenges facing agriculture to a county boasting agricultural output of $1.3 billion.

The $153,000 allocated by the county for UCCE/4-H has leveraged ninefold the contributions of others into a powerful presence in the lives and livelihoods of Santa Barbara County.

As a longtime resident of Santa Barbara County, I am not unsympathetic to the painful realities engendered by the economic collapse of these past five years. However, I pray our supervisors exercise the discernment to recognize the irreplaceable contribution these programs make in the lives of Santa Barbarans and the potential negative impacts on local business like the Santa Barbara County Fair and nonprofits such as the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County if funding was cut.

As both a product of the 4-H program, a 4-H parent and as a longtime 4-H volunteer, I have witnessed the transformation of Santa Barbara 4-H to a statewide model of public/private partnership, and seen our program grow and thrive with outreach to new and previously underserved communities who cherish the opportunities within our program offerings.

My personal, multigenerational experiences within the 4-H program are confirmed within the findings of a national study conducted by Tufts University on 4-H positive youth development, “Waves of the Future: The First Five Years of the 4-H Study of Positive Youth Development” (2009), which concluded “that when compared to other youth, 4-Hers excel and are:

» 25 percent more likely to contribute to their families, themselves and their communities

» More likely to see themselves going to college

» 41 percent less likely to engage in risk/problem behavior

I ask my fellow citizens of Santa Barbara County to join with me and the hundreds of children and volunteers in 4-H and within the agricultural community to communicate to our supervisors today the vital importance of these critical programs to the future of Santa Barbara County and its most precious resource — its youth.

Mary Thieleke Jackson, Director
Santa Barbara County 4-H Management Board