A young Cub Scout in the tiger den is smiling as he looks at the camera through small binoculars outside on a summer day.

As children get older the sheer number of activities seems to grow exponentially and choosing between soccer, ballet or piano lessons can be overwhelming. Sports and fine arts teach valuable skills and career/technical student organizations like FFA and DECA are good prep for the workplace — but this time let’s focus on other groups with a strong presence in Eastern Oregon.

We’ll start with the big one in our agricultural-based economy: 4-H, which offers youth programs in every county in Eastern Oregon. Most people associate it with showing animals or projects at the county fair. Erin Hansell-Heideman, who works with 4-H Youth Development in Morrow County, says there’s much more to it.

“You can do activities like shooting sports, food science, healthy living, robotics, fashion, and photography,” she says. “4-H is like a club for kids and teens ages 5 to 18, and it’s big! It’s the largest youth development program in Oregon. No matter where you live or what you like to do, Oregon 4-H has something that lets you be a better you.”

Hansell-Heideman explains that 4-H Youth Development is meant to unlock the potential of young people to learn, grow and thrive, using a network of educators and highly trained volunteers. “Our vision is that all youth experience a positive, thriving trajectory of development that leads to an adulthood marked by health and well-being, economic stability, social success and civic engagement,” she says.

Though schools and communities sponsor Oregon 4-H clubs, OSU Extension Service administers them. For more information, contact the Morrow County Extension in Heppner at 541-676-9642 or the Umatilla County Extension in Pendleton at 541-278-5403, or visit extension.oregonstate.edu/4h/morrow.

Just as 4-H conjures images of the county fair, it can be hard to separate Girl Scouts from their boxes of cookies. But scouting also offers a lot more.

Maureen A. Kenney, Public Relations and Advocacy Manager with Girl Scouts of Oregon and Southwest Washington, says her regional council serves 14,500 girls in grades K-12 for a lifetime of leadership, adventure and success. Covering 38 counties, the council focuses on building girls of “courage, confidence, and character, who make the world a better place.”

The Girl Scout program helps girls succeed by developing a strong sense of self, seeking challenges and learning from setbacks, displaying positive values, forming and maintaining healthy relationships, and identifying and solving problems in the community. Even cookie sales play a role, teaching girls about financial literacy and civic engagement. Other programs explore the outdoors through hiking and camping, and an extended STEM program takes girls behind the scenes at the Oregon Zoo and offers lessons in robotics and astronomy. For more information, visit girlscoutsosw.org.

Once a counterpart to Girl Scouts, Cub Scout and Boy Scout programs recently began welcoming girls into their ranks, and the Pendleton den has a growing membership of both boys and girls. Dale Hilding, pack leader for Pendleton’s Cub Scout Pack 745, says parents need to look for organizations and activities that do more than just give their children something to do. He says parents should find programs that help children develop strong moral values, a sense of social responsibility, good citizenship and teach skills they can use through adulthood.

Only Scouting builds those four goals directly into their program, Hilding says. “For parents, the ranks and awards are not nearly as important as the skills their children learn while they are having fun.” In Eastern Oregon, Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts fall under the Oregon Trail Council. You can find times and locations at the council website: www.cpcbsa.org.

For the competition and team-building skills of athletics with a STEM twist, many local schools also offer FIRST Robotics clubs starting as young as kindergarten. FIRST — For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology — designs accessible, innovative programs that build science and technology skills and interest through fun challenges. More on the program can be found at www.firstinspires.org/#parents or contact your child’s school to find out if it offers a FIRST program.

If your child would prefer something on a more individual basis, many libraries offer age-based book clubs, arts classes and story times. In the past, libraries have offered kids clubs from LEGO to Harry Potter, if the community has an interest. If your child is passionate about or interested in an activity, it might be worth asking your local library to consider offering one.

Other local resources include city parks and recreation departments, which offer seasonal programs, and arts centers, including the Pendleton Center for the Arts and Oregon East in La Grande, which offer various classes, clubs and programs. Arts, music and dance organizations, which vary by community, can offer creative outlets while teaching patience and control, and theater programs — that may take children as young as 5 or 6 — can give children the opportunity to take center stage while also learning about their own identities.

If you still aren’t sure what your child might thrive in, do a trial run. Most of the clubs and organizations here will give children a test period to try out the activities and see if they’re a good fit. What your child thrives in might surprise you.


Jennifer Colton is news director of KOHU and KQFM, and mother of three, based in Pendleton.

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