The 4-H program in Southeast Alaska has grown from 54 children in 1984 to about 700 children now, officials said. But it's not certain how strongly the region's program, funded by the federal government and the state university, will continue after its organizer retires next summer.
Jim Douglas, 54, runs the 4-H program as part of his duties as a Cooperative Extension Service agent based in Juneau. He also runs the gardening program. But he's leaving next June 30 after 20 years in town and 30 years altogether as an agent.
The Cooperative Extension Service is part of the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
The extension service does not plan to fill the position, said its director, Tony Nakazawa.
"Given the current budget climate, there's just more needs than there are funds to go around," he said.
But Nakazawa said the 4-H program in Southeast would continue even if Douglas' position isn't filled. In some places in Alaska, extension service support staff or other agents handle the task of helping volunteers run the various 4-H clubs.
In Juneau, the 4-H program includes a five-day summer camp and numerous clubs for youths in activities and interests such as karate, horses, small animals, dog obedience, outdoor skills, fly fishing and tying, cross-country skiing and running, cooking and sewing, and arts and crafts.
Douglas estimated that 400 to 500 Juneau youths participate.
Haines has a gymnastics club, Tenakee Springs a sailing club, and Craig an outdoors skills program.
"My kids are both involved in outdoors skills (program) all year long," said Deb Tempel, who cooks at the 4-H summer camp. "They would be devastated if it doesn't continue. These kids love this program."
4-H exhibits are a major part of the state fair in Haines, and 4-H runs a dog-obedience program at the Johnson Youth Center, the state youth jail in Juneau.
Judy Klein's children were in former 4-H clubs focusing on model airplanes and square dancing, and they attended the summer camp.
"They get a chance to come out and just be kids and have fun," she said of the camp. "They're not trying to learn too many technical things. They're learning how to be independent."