WASHINGTON, April 13, 2016 – One after another, lawmakers stood up before 4-H delegates, alumni and advocates to praise the storied agricultural program for young people at a breakfast today on Capitol Hill.
Rep. Austin Scott, R-Ga., who chairs the Agriculture Subcommittee on Commodity Exchanges, Energy and Credit, said, “I love this country and I love this organization. I think 4-H represents all that’s right with America.”
Sen. John Boozman, the Arkansas Republican who chairs the Agriculture Subcommittee on Commodities, Risk Management and Trade and is a 4-H alum himself, said the “tremendous difference” 4-H made in the lives of his three daughters was “next to the influence of the church.”
Boozman thanked the parents of 4-H members for their commitment to the organization, and told the 4-H national delegates in attendance (53 delegates came to Washington from 43 states for this week’s National 4-H Conference) “that the skills you’re learning now will serve you for forever. If you keep doing what you’re doing, you’ll be very successful.”
Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., also praised the group and asked for help from 4-H members in spreading the good word about farming and ranching. “We really need your help,” he said. “All you young people out there.”
He even made an appeal to the young 4-Hers’ cultural sensibilities:
“I’m not really into YouTube, but… How many of you have heard of the YouTube group from Kansas called the Peterson Brothers? The Peterson Brothers are actual brothers that create parody music videos like ‘I’m farming and I grow it,’ which has shown millions of people around the world a positive view of their family farm.”
Roberts encouraged those in attendance to be their own versions of “these YouTube advocates” and share their stories about raising and growing food in America. “I’m counting on you guys,” he said. “We have a lot of battles to win. We have a megaphone in the Senate Ag Committee, but nothing tops a young person telling the story of agriculture.”
More than a dozen other lawmakers, 4-H officials, Obama administration appointees and university extension professionals spoke on behalf of 4-H as well. Many of the lawmakers who spoke were 4-H alumni (and more than 50 members of Congress are 4-H alums).
The over-a-century old 4-H program is the largest youth organization in the U.S., boasting over 6 million members and 25 million alumni nationwide. Land-grant universities run 4-H through their Cooperative Extension offices, which are funded in part by USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture and county governments.
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Recently, 4-H leadership set a goal to increase membership from its current 6 million, to 10 million by 2025. Jennifer Sirangelo, the president and CEO of the National 4-H Council, said that part of the campaign to increase membership will be aimed at suburban and urban areas, and will leverage the group’s alumni network and social media following – which, she added, is the largest of any youth group in the U.S.
Wednesday’s breakfast was also a time to honor current 4-Hers for their leadership and community service.
- Ruwanthi “Ru” Ekanayake, from Los Angeles County, California, was this year’s recipient of the Youth in Action Award and the Healthy Living Pillar Award. Ekanayake launched her own healthy living blog, called the Fourth H – a reference to “health,” the fourth “H” following head, heart and hands in the 4-H pledge – that 4-Hers countrywide can use to connect around healthy eating, mental health and other topics. Ekanayake also organized a nine-county Healthy Living Summit through the University of California Cooperative Extension – work that has since led to other young people starting local initiatives like farm-to-table gardening and cyber-safety programs.
- Thaddeaus Hughes, the winner of the Youth and Action Science Technology Engineering and Math Award, hails from McLean County, Illinois, and is studying engineering at the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology. Hughes, also a mentor for the FIRST Lego League and the Illinois State Robotics Competition, teaches middle school students basic circuitry and robotics through a University of Illinois Extension after-school program that he developed himself, called Spinning Robots.
- Jacob Shuman of Ross County, Ohio, winner of the Youth in Action, Agriculture and Food Security Award, created his own honey bee education program through the Ohio State University Extension called Teens Educating Adults and Children about Honey Bees (TEACH B). Shuman leads live bee lessons and demonstrations, is an Ohio State ambassador and the recipient of the National 4-H Council Merck Youth Agriculture Advocacy Award.
- Alexandra “Lexi” Lerblance of Pittsburg County, Oklahoma, and winner of the Youth in Action Citizenship Award, is the co-founder of the Teresa Lane Compton (TLC) Memorial Wig Closet, which provides free high-quality wigs, head coverings, bras and prostheses to cancer patients in treatment. With help from the Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension, Lerblance and the TLC Wig Closet has raised over $15,000 in donations and given away over 200 wigs to those in need.
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