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The Youth Organization That Keeps Churning Out Trailblazers—It’s Not the Girl Scouts

You might think Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, or the 4-H Club are just childhood activities, but wait till you hear how it made these big names into who they are today.

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childhood-activity Courtesy 4-H Club

The power of a childhood activity

The 4-H program reaches kids in every corner of America. All the more reason we were excited to interview an actress, a country star, a celebrity chef, and a Facebook executive to discover more about the vital life skills they gained from participating in the program, which just happens to be the largest youth organization in the U.S., with nearly six million kids completing hands-on projects in areas like health, science, agriculture and citizenship.

Read on as film and TV actress/comedian Aubrey Plaza, country superstar Jennifer Nettles, celebrity chef/personality Anne Burrell, host of Worst Cooks In America, and Andrew Bosworth, inventor of Facebook’s Newsfeed, tell us how 4-H impacted their lives.

Do you live in a place where nice is the golden rule and people do kind things every day? Help us in our search for Nicest Place in America by nominating it today! If chosen, it will appear on an upcoming cover of Reader’s Digest!

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4-H Taught 4 Celebrities-Nick-WassAP-Images-for-National-4-H-Council

Aubrey Plaza: It was a huge part of my life

As a kid growing up in Wilmington, Delaware, Plaza’s grandparents lived around the corner from a couple that ran their own 4-H club in their house. She started getting involved in the program at age 8 and recalls doing community service, volunteer work, public speaking, and cooking and sewing competitions. The actor, best known for her role on Parks & Recreation, even attended 4-H camp where she became friends with kids who were raised on their family farms. She stayed involved with 4-H until she was 16.

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shaped-Aubrey Courtesy 4-H Club

Aubrey Plaza: It shaped my world view

“I really think it shaped who I am today in a huge way because I was exposed to so many different things that most younger people aren’t normally exposed to. I had so many experiences and interactions. I met so many different kinds of people. I always knew what I wanted to do and so when I went back as a 4-H camp counselor, I taught a movie-making class to the kids.”

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confidence-aubrey Courtesy 4-H Club

Aubrey Plaza: It helped me gain confidence

“Surprisingly, to a lot of people I was a shy kid growing up, and I think 4-H helped me gain confidence and leadership skills. I was thrown into situations where I had to really be a leader and kind of conduct myself in a very mature way. I remember one place we volunteered at a lot was a home for disabled and handicapped people. I was really young and, for young kids, I think going to a place like that and being surrounded by adults with disabilities and helping them is a very intense experience. For a young person to be thrown into that and to adapt and gain those skills that really helped me build compassion and confidence. It helped me understand the world a little better.”

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life--Jennifer-Nettles Courtesy 4-H Club

Jennifer Nettles: How it was a huge part of my life

As a kid growing up in the “swamp of South Georgia,” in a small town called Douglas, Nettles says she first heard about 4-H through school. “The local country agent came around to my fifth grade class and asked if any of us would like to participate,” she says. “I was curious. And I’m so happy I was!” The country music superstar ended up having a 4-H “career” from fifth grade through college, and her first singing group was even her 4-H troupe, Clovers and Company.

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career-Jennifer-Nettles Courtesy 4-H Club

Jennifer Nettles: It jumpstarted my career

“Georgia 4-H has a stellar performing arts group called ‘Clovers and Company.’ It is not hyperbole for me to say that I would not be doing what I am today, nor have the career I have, if it were not for this organization. It was the first time I was ever around other kids like me: kids who lived and breathed and dreamed performing. I learned so much about music and harmony and production and theme through my time in Clovers. It got me on my first airplane, allowed me to travel to Chicago, DC, and various states throughout the country, travel I would have never been able to do if it were not for this organization.”

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impact-Jennifer-Nettles Courtesy 4-H Club

Jennifer Nettles: It has had a lasting impact

“In addition to the opportunity for experience and travel and music, 4-H also gave me lasting friendships. The older I get the more I value community. 4-H is a wonderful community.” These are the 14 secrets to make friendships really last forever.

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anne-life Courtesy 4-H Club

Anne Burrell: How 4-H was a huge part of my life

As a child growing up in a small town outside Syracuse, New York, Burrell recalls regular Tuesday meetings after school where the kids did sewing and baking and went on annual father-daughter camping trips. The Food Network celebrity chef and Iron Chef America competitor ended up participating in 4-H programming from third to seventh grade.

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Anne Courtesy 4-H Club

Anne Burrell: It helped me forge friendships

“We’d pick apples and then make pies, and at Christmas time we would make gingerbread houses and decorate them and then, across the street, we did sewing. I remember making a reversible wraparound skirt! But mostly I remember my friendships. I’m still friends today with some of the girls that were in that after-school group.”

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Anne Courtesy 4-H Club

Anne Burell: It was all about camaraderie

“I loved being part of my 4-H group. I have really happy memories of those times. It was such a positive experience. I think that a lot of times things like this fall by the wayside in the days of electronics, everyone being so busy, but connecting like the way I did with my 4-H friends is so important!”

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life-andrew Courtesy 4-H Club

Andrew Bosworth: How 4-H was a huge part of my life

Born and raised in the Bay Area of California, Bosworth says 4-H has been a part of his life for as long as he can remember. His mom was in 4-H when she was young, and his two older sisters participated in 4-H before him. The Facebook VP, credited with creating the site’s Newsfeed, ended up participating in 4-H from age 9 to 19.

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agriculture Courtesy 4-H Club

Andrew Bosworth: It taught me about agriculture—and then some

“4-H is powered by local communities, and I had the stereotypical 4-H experience people might imagine, doing community service and raising animals to show at the county fair. But I also got to participate in programs that taught things like aerodynamics and computer hardware and software design. The beauty of all these programs is they work at two levels; there is specific skill development but also a lesson on being fearless about diving into new areas and getting your hands dirty.”

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Andrew-Bosworth Courtesy 4-H Club

Andrew Bosworth: It ultimately drew me to Facebook

“I think 4-H made me very community oriented, which was a big part of what drew me to Facebook very early on. Skills like public speaking and leadership are a part of every 4-H program and have been huge factors for me in what I’ve been able to accomplish. When you are building something brand new you must have confidence in yourself and your ability to explore an entirely new space, and that’s where 4-H programs really thrive in my experience. The organization was such a source of stability for me growing up and gave such a breadth of different ideas and experiences that it’s hard to disentangle it from who I am today.”

Do you live in a place where nice is the golden rule and people do kind things every day? Help us in our search for Nicest Place in America by nominating it today! If chosen, it will appear on an upcoming cover of Reader’s Digest!