With the dissolution of one club and the start of a new one, Porter County’s
4-H program in the Duneland community has gone through some changes in
recent years, but the interest still remains strong -- and growing.
“4-H is definitely alive in the Duneland area. It’s alive and well,” said
Purdue 4-H Youth Development Extension Educator Joan Grott.
Contrary to what some might think, 4-H isn’t just for kids who live on farms
or who care for farm animals. While animal care remains a mainstay of the
youth program, 4-Hers have a dizzying array of other projects to choose
from, many of which have little or nothing to do with agriculture.
In fact, the vast majority of the 4-Hers in one of the Duneland clubs, the
Lakeshore Drifters, don’t participate in animal projects but in other
endeavors, like photography, electricity, gardening, Legos, or foods.
“We’re breaking that mold” that 4-H is just for farm kids, said Lakeshore
Drifters leader Joyce Thomas.
In short, 4-H works this way: Students in grades 3 through 12 join a local
4-H club and are invited to participate in club meetings, activities and
community service. 4-Hers sign up for projects that interest them -- they
have more than 60 different topics to chose from -- and are invited to
attend workshops, led by adult volunteers, that explore those projects in
For example, 4-Hers in the photography project might spend an afternoon at a
park where expert advice is given on how to take the best photos. Kids in
the geology project might spend time with a teacher scouring over their
newfound rocks and minerals, while those in the bridge building project
learn the best ways to build a sturdy, small-scale bridge.
The most popular 4-H projects include photography, dogs, foods, Legos, Horse
and Pony, drawing and shooting sports.
Much of the 4-Hers’ work leads up to the Porter County Fair, where members
display their projects or show their animals. They are in effect competing
with their peers in their projects and age groups, vying for one of the
prized ribbons or plaques. If their work is deemed the best of the best in
their division, they might get the chance to represent Porter County at the
State Fair, where they vie with other 4-H members from throughout the state.
Students younger than third grade are also invited to join through 4-H
Explorers, for those in kindergarten, first and second grades. Explorers can
also display their projects at the County Fair, though the nature of their
projects and the ribbons awarded differ from those for the older members.
Showing a project at the fair isn’t mandatory for a 4-H member to achieve
completion status in their project. But the more that members do in 4-H, the
better their chances of securing special recognition and even scholarships.
Young 4-H members might be awarded a “Rising Star” honor for showing special
promise. Older members might get selected as ambassadors. Another special
award is bestowed annually upon the 10-year members, or those who join in
third grade and stay with the program through high school graduation.
The Duneland community now has four 4-H clubs: Lakeshore Drifters, Jackson
Volunteers, Liberty Hot Shots and a new club in its first year, Discovery
Trackers. Like all 4-H clubs, youth members can join any club that suits
them. They don’t have to live in their club’s home township.
Discovery Trackers is a good example. The club originated out of the new
Discovery Charter School and holds its meetings there, but it’s open to
everyone, Grott said.
Similarly, Lakeshore Drifters has members from Valparaiso and Portage and
even a few outside of Porter County. Thomas said 4-Hers cross township lines
to join 4-H clubs for any of a number of reasons, one of which could be that
they can’t make their home club’s designated meeting times.
Duneland used to have a Westchester Township-based club, but that
discontinued two to three years ago due to dwindling membership. The youth
in that club then joined other clubs, Thomas said.
Of Duneland’s four clubs, Lakeshore Drifters is the largest with a
membership approaching 100. At any given meeting, an average of about 60
members and their parents, attend, Thomas said.
Along with a variety of projects they can work on, 4-H members are invited
to participate in community service projects. Lakeshore Drifters members,
for example, have played bingo with nursing home residents, prepared
packages for troops, and cooked a meal at the Ronald McDonald House, while
the Explorers have made placemats for Meals on Wheels.
Lakeshore Drifters itself has gone through some changes. The club used to
meet at Brummitt Elementary School, but because of budget cuts at the
Duneland Schools and restrictions on outside group use of buildings, the
club had to stop meeting at the school. The Drifters now meet at the
Hawthorne Park Community Building in Porter, where sometimes the meetings
are so well attended “it gets a little tight,” Thomas said.
Thomas, a long-time leader of Lakeshore Drifters, recalls that a mere 11
years ago, the club had 17 members. “We’re growing fast,” she said.
How to Join
A student can join 4-H at any time in the year, though current members have
a January deadline for enrolling in their chosen projects, with a “drop and
add” option available through April. For more information, contact Purdue
Extension Office at 465-3555 or go online at
and click on 4-H Youth Development on the left.