There's an organization in Northern Virginia that's teaching kids about aerospace technology, how to start a business, international relations and the problems of highway driving.
That organization is the 4-H, known for its teaching projects on how to raise livestock and grow vegetables. But like many of its members in rapidly growing Northern Virginia, it has been changing to meet the needs of a more urban community.
In Virginia, young people can choose from 226 project subject areas. One of the newest projects is called "Blue Sky Below My Feet," which teaches youths about the space program.
Last spring, Becky Shumate and Diane Richardson, who volunteer in the Fairfax County program, taught the six-week space program to an enthusiastic group of 18 youths.
"The 4-H provided us with three half-hour videos on the space program, and they were fantastic," Shumate said. The videos included interviews with astronauts and film clips of space missions.
"For the section on food we got dehydrated food and cooked it to show how the astronauts eat," Shumate said. "The kids seemed to really enjoy that."
Other 4-H programs include "Let's Start a Business," "Bicycle Maintenance," "Computers," "Older Adults As Special Friends," "Electronics," "Windowsill Salad Garden" and "My Government." A series of seven programs on citizenship teaches youths about family relationships and neighborhoods, as well as local, state and national government and international relations.
The 4-H is open to youths ages 6 to 19. It is sponsored by the Cooperative Extension Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Those interested in joining the 4-H can do so by calling their local extension service office. The name of the group refers to improving the head, hands, heart and health of youths.
Virginia Warren has been a 4-H volunteer in the Brentwood area of Fairfax County for five years. This year, she is sponsoring a community club that offers a variety of projects to a group of about 30 boys and girls.
In the past, Warren, who was in 4-H as a youngster in New Philadelphia, Ohio, has taught woodworking, computers, sewing and dog obedience.
"I'm a leader because 4-H did a lot for me when I was younger; it got me out of my shell," Warren explained.
Kathryn Syarto, 9, is in Warren's sewing and modeling project. "I like 4-H because you get to learn about a lot of stuff about sewing, like how to run the machine," Syarto said.
"I've been in two fashion shows and it's fun because you get to go up on stage and all these people watch you."
The membership in 4-H has grown slowly in the last 10 years in Northern Virginia. According to Ann Gurney, who runs the 4-H program for Fairfax County, 4-H membership has remained at about 700 enrolled members and about 150 volunteers for the past three years in the county.
While the 4-H livestock programs have been dropping off in Northern Virginia, participation in the small-animal program is growing.
Eddie Towery, 17, has been in 4-H for six years. Last year, he won a first place in public speaking at the 4-H state congress, but he says his real love is rabbits. He has 30 pet rabbits and is a member of the 4-H Springfield rabbit club.
He has won nearly 300 ribbons for the rabbits, which live in a typical suburban setting, the back yard of his parents' half-acre homestead.
"We have some very positive experiences in our urban areas; for example, it's very rewarding to work with latchkey youngsters," said Wayne Keffer, assistant director for 4-H programs for the Virginia Cooperative Extension Service. Latchkey children are those who return from school to homes where parents are away at work.
"It's easier to find volunteers in urban areas because there's more of them, and in many cases there are a lot of people with great expertise," Keffer said.
Doris Carpenter, a 4-H volunteer for 20 years, has a darkroom in her Great Falls home, and she has taken several photography courses at area colleges. This fall, for the fourth year, she'll be teaching photography and movie-making to 4-H youths.
"The photography area has really grown in the last four years. This year, I'll have about 15 members in the project," Carpenter said.
In the Fairfax County 4-H fair during the summer, there were more than 350 entries in the photography contest. Carpenter said the number of photo entries in the fair has "easily doubled in the last four years, probably more than that."
Gurney said the program "Strong Families, Competent Kids" teaches children who are often alone in the home "how to properly answer the phone, how to handle emergencies, basic first aid, how to say no to strangers, and cooking and nutrition."
One of the most popular 4-H programs in urban areas teaches dog obedience and dog grooming and health. A 4-H program that teaches leadership offers field trips to visit state and local government leaders.
In Virginia, the first 4-H programs were corn clubs started in Dinwiddie County in 1909.
Today in Virginia, there are about 125,500 4-H members, 2,000 volunteers, 70 full-time and 50 part-time paid staff.
The 4-H is supported by federal, state and local funds. The Virginia 4-H has a budget for 1986-87 of $10.1 million, of which about 62 percent comes from state funds, 20 percent from federal and 18 percent from local.