Utah State University's Extension Service has been helping people for nearly 100 years.
As early as 1888, when the university was founded, there were programs to help farmers and farm families in a variety of ways.Eight years later, the Utah Legislature passed the Cazier Bill, which granted a small amount of money to the school to hold a Farmers Institute in each county annually - the beginnings of the Extension Division.
Congress passed the Smith Lever Act in 1914 which officially established the Extension Service throughout the nation and made 4-H a growing force in rural America.
Since then, the Extension System has grown to include nearly 4,000 specialists on the campuses of every land grant institution in America and more than 11,000 professional county agents in 3,150 locations.
In addition, nearly 2 million volunteer leaders and paraprofessionals assist the Extension in 4-H and other programs.
Times change. America is less rural, more urban. In Utah, for example, four counties - Salt Lake, Utah, Davis and Weber - had, in 1987, a combined population of 1,283,000, or 77 percent of the state's total. The other 25 counties had a population of 317,000.
Realizing that America is changing and that the number of farm families is dwindling, the 4-H program has taken on new goals, hoping to reach a wider audience, including not only city people, but central city and ghetto residents and retired people.
In 1986 and 1987, the Extension Service and 4-H pledged to focus on eight new, critical issues such as alternative agricultural opportunities, building human capital, competitiveness and profitability of American agriculture, conservation and management of natural resources, family and economic well-being, improving nutrition, diet and health, revitalizing rural America and water quality.
Extension leaders everywhere have shown they can solve a multitude of problems and help all kinds of people in practically every walk of life.
According to Dr. R. Paul Larsen, vice president for Extension and Continuing Education at USU, many reports and studies show that, where the Extension Service and 4-H have been used, it has been highly effective as a major educational force in the productive development of agriculture, youth, homes and communities of America.
The problem is, other studies have shown, only 27 percent of the households in the United States have used Extension Services.
The nation's Extension Service has the resources and manpower to help combat and help solve youth and adult drug problems, juvenile delinquency, youth unemployment, crime and many other serious problems.
But too many Americans don't appreciate 4-H, don't understand it is for everybody, not just farmers or farm families, and has a host of courses from space science and marine biology to psychology and manufacturing - in addition to a long list of agricultural courses and programs.
The Extension and 4-H need not reduce their agriculture programs just because America is less rural. As Dr. Larsen has pointed out, agriculture everywhere is not shrinking but expanding in value.
"While there are only 2 1/2 to 3 million farmers in the U.S. today, there are more than 25 million workers employed directly or indirectly in agriculture and the same ratio holds true in Utah," he said.
What must be done is simply to change the image of the Extension Service and 4-H.
They need to find out why more people are not using their services and programs. They need to reach out to wider audiences and convince them of the value of 4-H and Extension and the myriad of programs available, including off campus college courses and degree programs. They need to better advertise that 4-H offers Karate and geology, apartment flower box gardening and wallpapering and painting classes.
They have to let people everywhere know and understand that 4-H is not just for farmers, but for upward moving singles, grade school children in Chicago and New York apartment buildings, retirees in Phoenix and Palm Springs, and high school stars and drop outs from Miami to Seattle.