Emma Zombro and Caitlin Rainey were careful not to pull up the flowers with the weeds.

The Olde Towne East 4-H Club youth officials listened intently while club leader Marilyn Hake showed them how to care for the garden filled with flowers, herbs and vegetables.

"I'm learning about how it's good to take care of York City and keeping it beautiful," said Emma, 13, the club's 2012 president. "I'm learning to be a leader, to be a good listener and how to be strict when I have to, but not mean, but be very nice."

Caitlin, the club's 2012 vice president, said she has gotten healthier, lost weight and has a better attitude since joining Olde Towne East three years ago.

"I'm learning about fitness and now I drink more water, and eat fruit and vegetables," said Caitlin, 10, a city resident. "I'm better at home. I used to be mad when my mom said to do something. Now when she says to do something, I do it."

The 15-member Olde Towne East, which meets monthly at Tidings of Peace Christian School in York City, is a semi-traditional club that is part of the York County 4-H program, said Mary Jo Kraft, youth development and York County 4-H director with Penn State Cooperative Extension.

The York County 4-H Club's influence reaches beyond rural agricultural settings and its main facility in Stoverstown, Kraft said. The organization has 500 youth -- ages 5 to 18 -- in its traditional clubs.

Non-traditional members: However, there are more than 2,000 non-traditional club members who participate in 4-H activities offered through high schools, after-school programs, libraries, community centers and summer programs, she said.

While Olde Towne East 4-H Club holds monthly meetings following traditional 4-H procedures, the club meets as an after-school program during the school year. Members -- boys and girls ages 7 to 15 -- go on field trips, learn gardening and canning, and do arts and crafts.

"We learn a lot about each other and learn to value each other," Hake said. "4-H gives us a chance to see things grow as we take care of them. It teaches kids that if you're going to succeed, there are steps you have to take and remember to give back to your community."

Olde Towne East and other non-traditional club members can participate in community gardening and healthy living activities. They also engage in embryology projects that teach science and respect for life as they learn about incubation, hatching and care of chicks, Kraft said.

They also can participate in summer camps focusing on a variety of topics, including diversity and science, technology, engineering and math programs.

Like traditional club members, non-traditional participants are from urban, suburban, rural farming and non-farming communities, Kraft said.

"Most people think 4-H is just on the farm," she said. "But 85 percent of our members are not farming on farms. Our mission is to empower youth to reach their full potential through learning and in partnership with adults."

Other alternatives: The Girl Scouts in the Heart of Pennsylvania does not offer nontraditional activities, but has programs for at-risk girls, including the Defy the Odds program in York County, said Ann Hughes, executive vice president of the Harrisburg-based organization.

The drop-out prevention program uses Girl Scouts' curriculum and annually serves between 300 and 400 students. Program participants are considered Girl Scouts members, Hughes said.

"They choose how they participate in Girl Scouts," she said. "Some just do (Defy the Odds program). Some just go to Girl Scout camps. Some do troop activities."

The Boy Scouts Mechanicsburg-based New Birth of Freedom Council offers after-school programs in York City and Harrisburg, said Ron Gardner, New Birth's Scout executive and chief executive officer.

"They are non-traditional in the sense that those programs are provided directly by part-time employees of the council and not by adult volunteers," he said.

Gardner said more than 300 youth ages 13 to 20 -- male and female -- participate in the Boy Scouts' venturers program, which teaches them life, leadership and problem-solving skills and provides them opportunities to pursue their interests with local community groups.

And 70 of the council's Scouts participate in three nontraditional Explorers groups in which they learn about potential careers.

Locally, the Exploring programs can be done with police and county emergency services departments and the Chamber of Commerce, Gardner said.

--Reach Eyana Adah McMillan at emcmillan@yorkdispatch.com.