Napa Celebrates 100 Years of California 4-H

4H Story Kids WP

By Stephen Ferry

As California 4-H celebrates its centennial this year, Napa 4-H Program Coordinator Jim O’Neill is optimistic about the prospects for Napa 4-H over the next 100 years.

“I started 14 years ago as 4-H Program Coordinator in Napa County,” recalled O’Neill.  “October 6-12 this year was National 4-H Week, and nine of our clubs put together informational displays in local businesses for that week, to showcase Napa 4-H and get kids involved.  The Monticello 4-H Club made a display that was displayed the entire month of October at the Napa County Library.”

O’Neill explained some history of Napa 4-H.  “Napa High School was actually opened in 1897.  4-H started in the USA in 1902, and the Napa 4-H Program was started in 1919 as an offshoot of Napa High School Boys and Girls Club.  We have had a long, continuous history in Napa since then.  We started the Las Posadas 4-H Campout up at Angwin in 1928, and now that is our most popular Countywide project.”

The current Napa 4-H program includes 16 geographically-based 4-H Clubs in Napa County, covering every part of the County.  “Last year we had 604 4-H youth members and 223 adult volunteers,” said O’Neill.  “We offer over 100 different projects and seven Countywide projects – Camp, Rabbits, Horse, Goats, Poultry, Dance, and Teen Leadership.  Our ten most popular projects are Camping and Outdoor Adventure, Arts and Crafts, Food and Nutrition, Sports (Bowling), Swine, Poultry, Sheep, Clothing and Textiles, Community Service, and Leadership Development.”

“The clubs meet once a month.  Two of the clubs have farm plots associated with them, where the kids can actually grow things and also raise animals.  There is a big emphasis now on gardening and local, fresh foods.  All of the clubs participate in several projects each.  Each member in 4-H has one or more projects.  Participation in 4-H offers the kids opportunities to learn by doing and to develop leadership skills.”

“Our most popular Countywide project is the summer Campout at Las Posadas,” added O’Neill.  “The Las Posadas camping program has been going on continuously since 1928.  The swimming pool was built in the 1930’s by the CCC people.”

“We have two one-week sessions of camp.  In the past, one has been in June and one in July.  This year the Napa Town and Country Fair may change their dates, and we don’t want to conflict with that.  So next year the timing may be different.  We will know in January what the Campout dates for 2014 will be.”

“The kids go up on a Sunday afternoon and they stay until Friday night.  Things start off with an icebreaker so the campers can get to know the teenage and adult staffers who run the program.  Then through the week they have activities like archery, outdoor cooking, wilderness hiking, animal identification, lots of swimming, star gazing at night, day and night hiking, and a theme dance at the end of the week.”

“The kids sleep on outdoor platforms – no cabins or tents.  No laptops, no cell phones.  Campfire every night.”

Local youth make up a large part of the support staff for the Campouts.  “The campers are aged 9-14,” explained O’Neill.  “The staffer kids who actually do most of the work to run the program are high-school aged, 14-18.  We have about 30 of those.  Then we have the senior staffers, who have attended prior Las Posadas Campouts and who are usually juniors and seniors in high school.”

“Right now we are recruiting and taking applications for the staffer and senior staffer positions for 2014.  Tentative Campout dates will be the second week in June and the third week in July.  But if Napa Town and Country Fair moves their dates forward from August into July, then we would have to change the July Campout date, because so many of the kids show animals at the Fair.   We will know this month what the finalized 2014 dates will be.”

The Campout program is designed largely by the youths themselves.  “The kids selected to be staffers will be attending training/planning meetings every month from January through June,” said O’Neill.  “They will choose the theme for the dances, the projects that will be pursued, what kinds of arts and crafts, what kind of outdoor cooking.  In April and May we have on-site work days, where the staffers get the camp ready.  They work with
Cal Fire to clear brush and make the site clean
and fire-safe.”

“Attendance at the summer Campout is actually
open to youth not currently enrolled in 4-H.  This
is one way we hope to give them an idea of some
of the benefits of 4-H, and hopefully grow our
membership that way.”

“Parents who are interested in getting their child to experience 4-H in this way should contact me in April.  The enrollment always fills up, and we actually have waiting lists every year.  We have 150 people at the Campouts, which includes adult and teenage staff as well as about 110 campers.”

The applications for Campout attendance are available on-line after April 1,  and they are due April 30.  April is the month when parents must take the initiative to try to get their kids enrolled in the Las Posadas 4-H Campout.

“A big part of the kids livestock projects is showing at the Napa Town and Country Fair, and participating in the auction that follows.  Last year at the Fair we had around 300 kids that exhibited animals – sheep, swine, poultry, rabbits, all kinds of goats, guide dogs, llamas, therapy animals.  In 2013 the 4-H livestock auction at the NTCF raised just over one million dollars.”

There is a sizeable contingent of 4-H families that get together and camp at the Fair for the whole duration of the Fair.

“A lot of the work that the clubs do is community service oriented,” noted O’Neill.  “At Christmas they will go caroling at the Vets Home and local nursing homes.  Three of our clubs send needed items to our troops overseas.  The kids work at local animal shelters helping to care for the animals.  They hold canned food drives to contribute to the local food banks, and winter coat drives.  One kid did a project to collect backpacks and school supplies from local vendors and then contribute them to less fortunate kids who need them for school.”

“For our 600 plus kids in Napa County 4-H, we have 250 parents acting as adult leaders.  That is a very strong leader-to-youth ratio.  Most parents involved in 4-H now are second generation, they want their kids to have that same experience that they had,” said O’Neill.  “I am happy and honored to help keep this great tradition alive and strong in Napa County.”

Napa County 4-H publishes a monthly newsletter, available on line at

And for more information about Napa 4-H in  general, go to the 4-H website at

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