As I reflect on 2022, the biggest highlights for me involved spending time listening and learning from 4-H'ers again post-pandemic. Their insights help me understand how we can continue to meet the very real and changing needs of young people. I am inspired by Gen Z and their willingness to tackle some of our most pressing issues and their commitment to making a difference in their communities.
Here are a few of my favorite moments from the past year and the amazing youth and adults I met along the way.
4-H’ers are doers who are making a difference in their communities, and many participate in the 4-H Tech Changemakers program. Stephen Hayes is a part of Florida A&M’s 4-H program, (4-H Youth Development (famu.edu), where he joins thousands of 4-H’ers around the country who are working to bridge the digital divide in their communities by teaching digital skills to adults. You can watch Stephen and his mom, Sabrina, (an Extension agent!), interviewed on The Tamron Hall Show where they talked about their work and impact. 4-H Tech Changemakers was also featured in this New York Times article, which highlights 4-H’s efforts to close the digital divide.
Connecting with young people and hearing what’s on their hearts and minds is one of the most rewarding parts of my job. I met with these 4-H’ers during the 4-H Youth Ag Summit where I learned about their aspirations - in high school, college, and beyond. Preparing the next generation with the skills needed to succeed is a significant focus of our mission. And we’re grateful to partners like Google, Verizon, Microsoft, Nationwide, Bayer, Tractor Supply Company, Hughes Net and others for preparing the future workforce. Recently, Google.org extended its partnership with a $5 million computer science education grant to support thousands of young people with computer science education. Check out this article to learn more about the Google partnership.
Diversity, Equity and Inclusion
As part of 4-H’s mission to create opportunity for all young people, we convened the True Leaders in Equity Institute as part of our Youth Summit Series. 4-H’ers learned leadership skills to tackle local equity issues they identified in their communities. This leadership opportunity will foster welcoming and inclusive environments for all young people in 4-H. Trustee Tiffany Atwell and I were inspired by our time with teen leaders from the Virginia 4-H Equity and Inclusion Task Force. You can learn more about the 4-H True Leaders in Equity Institute here. And the Virginia 4-H task force here.
In December, I traveled to Hawai’i to meet with Cooperative Extension leaders from the University of Hawaii , Northern Mariana Islands, Guam and American Samoa. These impressive 4-H programs prioritize youth voice as they serve many families who identify as Native Hawai’ian and Pacific Islanders. I was honored to meet 4-H’er Jenna (above, left) and learn about how the Kona 4-H Program has helped her build confidence, set college goals, and share her Native Hawai’ian culture through dance and art. Extension leaders, including Tayna Belyeu-Camacho, Northern Mariana Islands, (right), also shared about the effects of climate change and natural disasters on their campuses and programs, how important environmental stewardship is to their 4-H youth, and what they are doing to be part of the solution in their local communities. These sentiments mirrored the data in our Teen Environmental Survey that we released earlier this year.
Here’s a fun photo from a hike I took with 4-H Youth in Action Agriculture winner Tashina Red Hawk during the Agriculture Summit at the Summit in Colorado. One of the things we talked about was our own emotional well-being, as Tashina and I both shared our own challenges and how young people and adults in our lives are struggling after the pandemic. I’m grateful for Cooperative Extension’s 4-H programs that support the emotional and physical well-being of young people by encouraging positive social interactions with peers and adults.
Food & Agriculture
There are thousands of Gen Z youth who represent the future of agriculture and food security. Equipping teens with the resilience and skills to build and run our country’s agricultural system has always been a core purpose of 4-H. I was so excited to visit the New York State Fair this summer, one of thousands of events where 4-H gives young people the opportunity to showcase their projects like livestock, nutrition, leadership, art and public speaking while developing a lasting sense of belonging and purpose.
Providing youth with opportunities to build leadership and civic engagement skills in the real world is another 4-H priority. And there’s nothing better than a live classroom during 4-H Day at the Georgia State Capitol. I hope you’ll enjoy this video I took in February as the Georgia State Speaker of the House led a huge stairway full of 4-H’ers in the wave. This event was special to me because it was the first large gathering of 4-H youth I attended since 2020 and it was great to see them all together, learning about leadership from 4-H alums.
My time with 4-H youth this year made me more grateful than ever for the dedication and commitment of the 4-H staff, educators and volunteers who deliver Cooperative Extension’s 4-H programs locally. Thank you – you are heroes of youth development. I am excited to see what the future holds as we continue to empower youth to make a positive impact on the world around them.
If you’d like to see and learn more about 4-H, be sure to visit our website at 4-H.org and/or visit our social media channels @4H and @JSirangelo. I always love connecting with people who are interested in creating opportunity for all young people through 4-H.