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Kyle Eckler, FCS Financial loan officer, presents the Home Pioneer 4-H club with a Shaping Rural Missouri Grant.

Originally published by MU Extension.

Kyle Eckler with Home Pioneer 4-H Club

The small town of Atlanta, Missouri, is known for its love for high school sports — and 4-H.

Located in Macon County in the northeastern part of the state, the Home Pioneer 4-H Club has grown from 23 members to now more than 100 in just nine years.

Despite the challenges of COVID and other competing activities for modern families, 4-H is alive and well here.

Established in 1945 in rural Atlanta and originally known as “Love Lake 4-H,” the club has several members whose family members were on that original club roster.

“We call our kids who had a parent in our club, ‘Legacy Members,’” said Aaron Baker who serves as the club’s leader. “My grandpa and my dad were both members here. Now, I’m passing that tradition down to my kids.”

Currently, Home Pioneer hosts two monthly meetings in just one day, to help with logistics of crowd size and schedules. “Our club meetings are led by members,” Baker said. “Despite our size, folks are only at meetings for less than an hour. We are designed for busy families.”

Last year, Home Pioneer worked with City of Atlanta officials to apply for multiple citywide grants. For example, the organization secured a grant from FCS Financial for $500 to make downtown improvements. The club also maintains the city’s park.

“In some ways, we are the parks and rec department for the City of Atlanta,” joked Baker. “We buy mulch by the trailer load each year, and the kids help spread it. Many hands make light work.”

Home Pioneer 4-H Club prides itself on its service to the community. Among countless other events and service, members of Home Pioneer 4-H Club help maintain flags around town and volunteer with 70+ other locals each year for “Loving Our Community,” a community-wide service day that includes painting, clearing brush and more.

“Our community relies on our members, and we rely on them,” Baker said. “The mayor is a 4-H mom here. The city and county are great to work with.”

In addition to club growth, Home Pioneer 4-H is seen as an innovator throughout the state. Club members were the first in the state to create “project record videos,” introducing what they had learned through programming on social media. The club also debuted a “drive-through” membership meeting to kick off the new year during the pandemic, an idea that remains today. Baker also created an online 4-H Group that helps Missouri 4-H club and project leaders share ideas.

“It is a big club doing big things,” said Dr. Lupita Fabregas, state 4-H director. “Home Pioneer has been recognized time and time again for the great things they are doing. I spoke to the entire club via a Zoom [video conference call] early in the pandemic. When we need an example of a club that is doing something new and innovative, Home Pioneer is often where our ideas start.”

Another tradition for the club is an annual trip. Last year, Home Pioneer took a chartered bus from Atlanta to the Iowa State Fair. “Our activities are funded by Christmas wreath sales that gross more than $10,000 each year,” Baker said. “We sold wreaths when I was a member of the club, too.”

Home Pioneer was the largest club represented at Teen Conference and at the State 4-H Day at the St. Louis Cardinals game last year — a tradition that isn’t likely to change soon.

“We plan on taking at least 10 kids to State 4-H Congress this year. When we started as leaders, all of our kids were very young,” Baker said. “Now, we’re starting to have older kids doing more of the events and travel that 4-H offers to teens. I couldn’t be more excited about our future.”

To learn more about Home Pioneer 4-H Club, visit their Facebook page.

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