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Center for Engagement and Community Development

4-H and Military Partnerships

Marlene VerBrugge, Research Assistant Professor at the School of Family Studies and Human Services, has worked tirelessly to develop partnerships in the military with 4-H youth. Her work includes serving as the Project Director for the 4-H/Army Youth Development Project, the 4-H/ Air Force Partnership Project and the CYFAR and Military Partnerships Project.

She also manages the project funding that supports Army Child, Youth and School Services and Air Force Airman and Family Services as well as 41 Military 4-H Club Grants and 50 Operation: Military Kids Grants. 

The partnership officially began in 1995 with Army Child, Youth and School Services, but VerBrugge has special ties with 4-H. She was involved in it herself, and remembers her time there fondly. “I grew up in 4-H in Manhattan,” said VerBrugge. “It gives you confidence to present in front of people.”

Her involvement only grew from there, explains VerBrugge. “I came on in about 2001, and at that time the director for Child, Youth and School Services was interested in having 4-H be a part of their program. She had been a 4-Her herself, and thought it had a lot to offer military youth. So we started doing a lot of conferences that brought research extension… to sort of train them all together on 4-H.” 

After that, VerBrugge partnered with the Air Force in 2004, followed by the Navy in 2008. “It’s been wonderful to have the relationships between extension and military liaison,” said VerBrugge. “And just seeing all that they do for military youth and the difference they can make in their lives.”

4-H Military Partnerships provide a variety of options for youth. Programs focused on three core areas; Citizenship, Healthy Living, and Science, are seen throughout the country. Notably, the Navy 4-H Military Partnership developed four Navy Specialty Camps, with focuses on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) programs, with very positive results. Camps like these are important to VerBrugge, as military youth are often unable to attend camp in the first place.

In any engaged work, VerBrugge said building relationships is key. It’s especially crucial for her work, given the high turnover rate that comes with the profession. 

Carol Fink, Project Coordinator, also said it’s important to continue to build those relationships, so 4-H is able to meet the needs of their military families.

In 2014, there were over 900 4-H clubs on installations, 34,168 active duty youth served and 30,558 geographically dispersed youth served. “It’s really life changing experiences for the youth,” said VerBrugge. “And something that they’ll remember for a lifetime.”