4‑H Youth in Action: Epitomizing 4‑H Youth Empowerment and Leadership

by Kittrina Thompson

As the deadline is quickly approaching to apply for the 2016 YIA Awards, and 4‑H’ers across the country are preparing to submit their applications to be chosen as one of four 4‑H YIA recipients, National 4‑H Council caught up with the 2015 award winner and New York 4‑H’er Nosa Akol.
At an early age, Nosa was bullied and experienced insecurities within herself. As a result, she lost confidence in herself, avoiding interactions with others, including her own family. Despite these challenges, Nosa’s decision to join CITIZEN U 4‑H during her freshman year of high school made a positive, life-changing impact on the way she viewed herself and the obstacles she faced.

Nosa credits CITIZEN U for helping her overcome the effects of bullying, develop self-confidence, and build leadership and public speaking skills. Her involvement in 4‑H has given her the opportunity to be a positive example for fellow youth in her community, having recruited other local youth to join CITIZEN U and share their voice.

Since receiving the 4‑H Youth in Action Award, Nosa’s story has been widely shared and her feats congratulated. Among those experiences are serving as keynote speaker at the 2015 New York State 4‑H Foundation Annual Dinner, and appearing on the national 2015 American Graduate Day broadcast, where she shared her incredible story live on PBS.

Why did you apply for the 4‑H Youth in Action (YIA) Award?

Nosa Akol (NA): At first I did not even know what the Youth in Action award was. My mentors encouraged me to look into applying. Once I did, the whole idea kind of fascinated me. When I noticed that the minimum requirement for 4‑H membership was 4 years—exactly how long I’d been in 4‑H—I took it as a sign that this is something I should really do.

What was the most difficult part of applying for the 4‑H YIA Award?

NA: The most difficult part of applying for the award was talking about my bullying experience. I never talked about being bullied to anyone, including my friends and family, and just generally always pushed it aside. The constant encouragement of my mentors made the process of applying pretty easy. Now, bullying is part of my story. It’s included in my YIA application video on YouTube where many people, who I don’t even know, can see it. It’s actually helped me help other people who are struggling with being bullied.

What was the easiest part about applying for the 4‑H YIA Award?

NA: After sitting down and planning/organizing how to put together the video, the whole process seemed to go smoother because it made it easier for my mentors and I to envision what the end product would be and what we needed to do to get it there.

Where were you when you learned you were selected as the national 4‑H YIA Award winner? How did you feel?

NA: I just returned home from school and was standing in the middle of my room when I got a phone call and learned that I was selected as the winner of the 4‑H Youth in Action award. I think I was so taken by surprise and filled with so much excitement that I couldn’t speak. Actually, as soon as the call ended I screamed, did a little dance, told my mom, and then called my mentor, Kelly Mabee. She told me that she had already known but was trying to arrange for a surprise announcement and party for me. She said it was really hard for her to keep the secret and that she was so happy for me; she was crying, too!

How did you feel about traveling to D.C. and participating in the awards event?

NA: I loved every moment. I traveled to D.C. previously so I was excited to go back because I know that one day I want to live and work in D.C. Everyone I met, and everyone who had a hand in organizing my visit and the Legacy Awards, was absolutely incredible and welcoming. I cannot thank everyone involved enough for making me feel comfortable throughout the experience.

What is your greatest memory about your 4‑H YIA experience in Washington, D.C.?

NA: My greatest memory was when I was handed the award. I don’t think I fully explained to my father that I would be receiving the award, so he was in tears, which I had never seen before. It was really heartwarming to see how proud he was of me.

How has your experience as 4‑H YIA helped or inspired you in the past year?

NA: After I sent in my application, I immediately looked at the other 2015 applicants and just mentally wrote myself off because all the other applicants had been in 4‑H much longer than I and they had accomplished so much. This experiences helped me learn that I shouldn’t take myself out of the game, instead I should really believe in myself more.

What advice do you have for other youth who are thinking about applying for the 4‑H YIA Award?

NA: I would tell them to go for it. You may say something that catches the judges’ attention, something that sets you apart from the other applicants to make you the 2016 Youth in Action award recipient.