Started in 1969 by the 4-H Leaders Association, the foundation is an important funding source for Montana 4-H, said Jill Martz, director of the 4-H Center for Youth Development at Montana State University.
"The foundation's support to 4-H takes many forms," Martz said, "from college scholarships and youth awards for skills development to contributions toward volunteer and staff training."
Including voting youth members on the Montana 4-H Foundation Board of Directors ensures a strong youth-voice in its choices, said Sandra Germann, Montana 4-H Foundation director.
"We help pay for leadership and skills training because they are important for Montana 4-H youth and adults," Germann said. "And we help pay for participation in citizenship programs, like those to Helena and Washington, D.C., because it is important for Montana 4-H'ers to have the experience."
"Basically, the foundation does everything it can to support the more than 21,000 youth involved in 4-H life skills development in Montana," Germann said.
Four-H competitions and projects range from rocketry to rabbits, computers to cattle and shooting sports to livestock judging.
Each is designed to require judgment, skills and public speaking abilities that are useful throughout the 4-H'ers lives, said Karin Ludeman, president of the Montana 4-H Foundation Board of Directors.
Ludeman, of Bozeman, said she credits her experiences as a 4-H'er with many of her own career and life skills.
"My 4-H club meetings and activities were the beginning of learning social skills, parliamentary procedure, and sewing and cooking skills," Ludeman wrote in an e-mail. "As an adult, I have continued to use all of those skills in various ways."
Ludeman said she knows of adults whose early 4-H projects led to careers in forestry, electrical engineering and photography.
"The contributions made through the Montana 4-H Foundation help make unique opportunities available to 4-H youth and adults," Ludeman wrote. "Because of the opportunity to explore different projects, certain ones may spark an interest in a young person's life that carried into their adult years as their professional career or a lifelong hobby. I personally know these individuals. 4-H launched them into their chosen fields."
The foundation supports both statewide and local events, from helping pay for the annual Montana 4-H Congress, which draws 400-500 youth and adult volunteers each July, to providing small grants to community 4-H clubs. Congress is youth-driven and managed, Germann said. The 4-H'ers do much of the planning but also gain experience by running everything from lighting in MSU's Brick Breeden Fieldhouse to the professional sound system. The small grants to local 4-H'ers are often in the form of the foundation's "People Partner Grants" or "Innovative Program Grants." In the past, such grants have included money to support bicycle safety rodeos, add books to local libraries, improve community landscaping or football field bleachers or provide blankets for children in need.
In addition to the financial benefits of these grants which benefit local communities, the grant process itself serves as hands-on training for Montana 4-Hers, Germann said.
"As with many 4-H projects, youth 'learn by doing,'" she added. "They identify a need, write the grant and help carry out the project."
The Montana 4-H Foundation also defrays the costs of numerous programs, including helping to fund international experiences for youth and young adults.
The foundation's 40th year continues through 2009. As part of the anniversary, individuals and organizations are joining the "400 Club" for 4-H, by donating $400 or more in unrestricted funds to the foundation in a year. Each member receives a special Montana Silversmith lapel pin or a 10-year plaque to display 4-H support.
Foundation birthday parties will be held throughout Montana at local fairs and other public gatherings. Among the parties planned are those in Fergus and Petroleum counties July 25, Flathead County the week of Aug. 17, Silver Bow County the week of July 31, Daniels County on Aug. 2, Maria County July 19, Powder River County Aug. 7 and Wibaux County Aug. 27-30.
"Like many other non-profit organizations today, we are feeling the effects of the economy," Germann said. "To continue support of 4-Hers statewide at the levels we have in the past, will require creative fundraising."
Anyone wishing to support 4-H at the statewide level can contact Germann at (406) 994-5691 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Contact: Sandra Germann (406) 994-5691 or email@example.com, Martha Klaumann (406) 994-5911 firstname.lastname@example.org; Karin Ludeman email@example.com, Jill Martz (406) 994-3099 or firstname.lastname@example.org