What are head, heart, hands and health.
That's the answer to the Jeopardy question: What do the Hs stand for in 4-H?
And Dee Keese, who has spent 40 years as a Palos Verdes Peninsula 4-H Club leader, wants you to know that clearer thinking (head), greater loyalty (heart), larger service (hands) and better living (health) are credos worthy of consideration.
Sure, the projects that spring to mind when we think of 4-H are still important: livestock, beekeeping, horses and poultry, marine biology and leather crafting. But it's the leadership and life skills that Keese wants to instill in her young 4-H members that are the core of her mission.
Keese grew up in the South Bay and moved to the Peninsula in 1949. She has always given back to her community because her mother, Bette Cooke, one of the first PTA Council presidents on the hill, was a giver, too.
The Westfield area resident was originally drawn to the 4-H Club when a neighbor suggested her son join.
Ultimately, Keese raised her five children and 13 grandchildren in the organization. Currently she has two grandchildren in the club: a kindergartner and a 4th grader.
When she took over the club four decades ago, Keese had only 18 students and five leaders. Of the nine clubs in Los Angeles, Peninsula 4-H is now one of the largest with 137 members, 37 different projects and 44 leaders.
Last year, Peninsula 4-H was by far the largest club in all of California, Keese said.
And, she said, projects, where students learn "by doing," are better than book learning.
"They'll learn more and remember it more if you have a hands-on project," she said, noting there's nothing like putting on a beekeeper suit and getting your hands in the hive to make a lasting impression about the ecosystem of honey making.
“But we’re not just project-oriented,” Keese said. “We have 65 high school students in the program who lead the projects and teach younger kids. We’re a leadership organization that includes all ages from 5 to 19.”
For example, Keese’s club recently heralded six gold medal winners in a popular sharp shooter target exercise. The league tallies results within the district by submitting completed targets through the mail.
Reese said 4-H is three faceted: leadership, community service and life skills.
In addition to projects, the club teaches life skills and focuses on enhancing leadership talent. Meetings are run by the kids, who meet and decide what they want to do, and how they want to do it.
Further, 4-H is heavily into community service. The club holds three-to-four community service projects monthly, along with its learning projects and meetings.
“Whether it’s helping at a convalescent home or doing beach clean-up, we’re there,” Keese said. “In the last fifteen years, we’ve become really in tune with science and technology.”
Keese said 75 percent of her leaders have no children in the club. The leaders are mostly older adults who once had children in 4-H. Or, even if they didn’t, just want to support others. They teach lost-art-type programs including spinning, weaving and bee-keeping.
The Peninsula club, said Keese, has taught young members they can make a difference.
Back in the 1970s, 4-H’ers helped save Madronna Marsh. In in the 1980s they tried saving Marineland. Most recently the 4-H Club helped get a horse crossing across Palos Verdes Drive North, after a horse was killed there two years ago.
Keese said the most rewarding aspect of her work is just seeing the kids grow.
She writes recommendations for students who want to go to the National Conference, knowing they’re excited and want to do more. Her 2017 club president, Ru Ekanayake, was named National 4-H Member of the Year at age 17, and went on to get a full scholarship to Cornell University.
The Peninsula 4-H chapter recently held its annual Halloween Party, an event the group has been celebrating for a continuous 40 years in the Keese backyard. About 250 kids attended. The little ones decorated the yard and made fancy cupcakes. The junior leaders, ages 11 to 13, put on all the booths, and the high school kids hosted a haunted walk.
The busy community volunteer recently returned from a national conference in Atlanta where she met 4-H Club leaders from other states.
“I came back so revitalized, knowing what a difference we make with our young children, Keese said. “This is a tough world right now with our kids. Just having them on their computers and iPhones so much, it’s wonderful to get them to do things hands-on, and when they are older, give back to younger kids.”
Unlike joining some clubs and organizations, 4-H is not a popularity contest, Keese said, who added her club helps kids find their niche and feel good about themselves.
“As long as you feel good, and you have a safe place, then everything’s okay," she said. "And that is what we need every person to feel like.”
The future of 4-H on the Peninsula is set because Keese isn't going anywhere.
"I don't think I'll ever quit," she said. "I absolutely love it."