My life at the Marshfield Fair grew stronger this year when I focused my annual volunteering vacation on helping the 4-H Program. It’s a broad-based agricultural youth program sponsored by the Plymouth County Extension Service and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Now the Fair is finished, and I can look back on Sunday’s 4-H Award Ceremony and the scores of local kids from around age six all the way up to college age. I’ve been with them daily for the last week, and I’ve seen their successes (many), failures (few), and meltdowns (one or two). In all of it, parents and other adults supervised, supported and taught, but the kids did the bulk of the work. It’s a 4-H standard, but I was struck by another aspect. When times were tough, when something didn’t go well, it was the kids who rallied to the side of any disappointed or stressed-out 4-Her and helped out.

Most everything they did, from hard work to lazing around, the 4-Her’s did in groups. They’re supposed to do that, especially when handling large or agitated livestock or heading off to other places in the wild and wooly Fairgrounds, but it seemed to come naturally to them, as if they were living out the rural ideal of folks helping each other all the time, just so it won’t feel so awkward some of the time when someone really needs the help.

One of H’s in 4-H stands for “Hands – to larger service,” so the mutual support is no accident. It’s a part of the pledge they recite at every meeting, including the daily barn meetings at the Fair. Here’s the whole thing:

“I Pledge my Head to clearer thinking, my Heart to greater loyalty, my Hands to larger service, and my Health to better living, for my club, my community, my country, and my world.”

I heard them recite it again at the awards ceremony, without the comic little dance they do at less august occasions, and I was moved. Day-in, day-out the little dance lightens things up, and the kids like it that way.

How can such positive and traditional values capture such a large group of young people so fully? Duxbury’s Jeff Chandler thinks much of it comes as a gift from parents, grandparents and beyond. He said so when he presented an award named for his grandmother, the Mabel Chandler Memorial Award for the 4-H exhibitor who shows the most outstanding citizenship qualities, this year given to Duxbury’s Catherine Jordan.

It comes, too, from the parents and club leaders who do the heavy lifting from one week to the next. The 4-Hers do the work with the animals – cows, goats, rabbits, sheep, pigs, chickens and dogs – while the adult leaders and the other parents shape the matrix in which the kids thrive.

The centerpiece has to be the Extension Service Office in Hanson, with Molly Vollmer and Sam Fox, 4-H Educators, and Debbie Corrow, 4-H Clerk. Call them at 781-293-3541 to learn where your child can find a nearby 4-H club that shares the same interest. Duxbury has clubs focused on cattle, chickens, or dogs, but other nearby clubs focus on goats, horses, rabbits and sheep. No one needs to own an animal to get fully involved in 4-H or to join a club. Clubs could also be organized around other issues. Environmental science, horticulture and gardening, marine biology, aqua-culture, small or large engine mechanics – all are activities that could frame a 4-H club as long as kids were interested and the right leaders could be found. There’s even a program – Operation Military Kids – for 4-H kids to learn and work to support families of deployed military members. Call the Hanson office and get involved. Who knows? There may be a little cowlick in your future. Or a great big sloppy one.