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Opportunities abound in 4-H

POSTED: April 4, 2018 9:37 a.m.
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SPRINGFIELD — Few youth organizations feature a wider door of opportunity than 4-H.
In Effingham County, more than 2,000 students participate in a club whose mission is to empower young people to lead for a lifetime. This is accomplished through mentors and hands-on-projects.
“Four-H has definitely transitioned over the years,” said Abby Smith, County Extension coordinator. “We are still deep rooted in agriculture but our 4-H program has really expanded. We focus a lot on leadership, citizenship and communications skills.
“Really, my goal as a 4-H agent is to find ways to plug kids into positive educational experiences — whether that is through a public speaking contest, being part of an archery team or being part of a Lego Club after school. 

“We’re just trying to find that niche that they are most interested in so that we can feed them educational values and life skills that they are going to need.”
In Effingham County, 4-H membership is compulsory for fourth and fifth graders.
“They are automatically enrolled because we go into those classrooms every single month,” Smith said. “We have a good partnership with the Effingham County Board of Education and it provides us with that opportunity to provide educational programming on a monthly basis.”
Starting in middle school, students can opt for 4-H membership as an after-school activity. 
“We have monthly meetings and camps for all ages,” Smith said. “We are trying to offer something that kids want to get involved in and feel passionate about. One of my goals as a 4-H agent is to add the programs that students are wanting so that they can get involved and feel successful and whatever level that is.”
Smith said 4-H’ers get ample hands-on experience with technology.
“A lot of our older 4-H’ers, when they are preparing their presentations for competition, use Power-Point or Google Slides to deliver their information as opposed to traditional posters in District Project Achievement,” Smith said. “That is how we infuse technology into the program.”
Effingham County boasts some of the nation’s most successful 4-H’ers, including Rebecca Vasquez.
“She has served on county, state and national (4-H) boards,” Smith said. I also have Payton Mercer, who has been a 4-H STEM advisor. I also have 4-H’ers who have ‘mastered’ at the state level in a project area.
“They are very involved and are good at what they do.”
Effingham County 4-H is affiliated with Effingham County Family Connection, a collaboration of community partners united by the same goal.
“That partnership works so beautifully because it brings together this network of people who are all working for the good of families and children in our community,” Smith said. “It brings us together as professionals and helps us find opportunities to offer better opportunities for students and see where we can help each other. There are organizations that need volunteers for community service or an activity that is going on and so I’m able to give that opportunity for 4-H’ers who are in need of service hours.
“That’s been a nice connection that we’ve had.”
Members of Smith’s 4-H Leadership Team have attended Family Connection meetings.
“When we’ve needed that youth voice when we are talking about issues, it’s nice to hear from them and their perspective,” Smith said. “That’s been very beneficial.”
To learn more about 4-H, call 912-754-8040 or email awsmith@uga.edu.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the ninth story in a weekly series about organizations in Effingham County Family Connection, part of a statewide initiative that cultivates public and private collaboration at the local level. Georgia Family Connection is represented in each of the state’s 159 counties, making it the largest network of its kind in the nation. The Effingham County Board of Commissioners is the local affiliate’s fiscal agent.

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