It all began when Tiffany Thornton's parents encouraged her to take part in a 4-H public speaking contest when she was just nine years old.
"To this day I can still remember the first paragraph of my speech, which was about water pollution - 'When the well is dry, we will know the true worth of water. Benjamin Franklin spoke these words in 1776 and they were as profound then as they are today'."
What are we doing today to make the world better tomorrow?
The positive experiences Tiffany enjoyed as a 4-H'er inspired her involvement in something that would leave the world a better place for the next generation. Tiffany is a Senior Research Associate in the plant breeding unit at Corteva, where she leads a team in logistical operations and workflows at the Miami-Missouri Research Center.
As a 3rd generation 4-H'er who is now raising a 4th generation, Tiffany credits 4-H with offering her the opportunities that led her to where she is today. Her passion for ensuring communities have what they need to thrive, but doing so responsibly and sustainably, drives her every day. The 4-H motto, To make the best better, continues to inspire her. "What are we doing today to make the world better tomorrow? I think that's one of the key things about 4-H and 4-Hers, to make ourselves the best, even better. Being in 4-H and having these experiences led me to where I am."
By being involved in this project I've learned so much about pollinators...
There's a place for all of us in this.
Tiffany has been with Corteva for 16 years now and knows they are an organization that resonates with these same values of helping communities thrive. "Every day I know I'm impacting that people are going to eat tomorrow."
Tiffany's involvement in the Corteva Grows Pollinators Habitat Program, which supports monarch butterfly and pollinator habitat creation across the United States in partnership with 4-H and Pheasants Forever, is just one example of how Tiffany is helping create an impact.
"Even 10 or 15 years ago we didn't hear too much about the situation with our pollinators, but fortunately that's changed," shared Tiffany. "By being involved in this project I've learned so much about pollinators; I've become more aware of what's going on and how we can be better stewards of the land. There's a place for all of us in this."
Without 4-H, I don't know that I would have ended up here.
While Tiffany didn't always know exactly what career or path she was going to take, 4-H gave her the confidence to seek it out and the resilience to push on, even when she stumbled.
"4-H taught me the ability to not be afraid to go do this other thing, even though all my friends might not have been doing it, but to go look at this because it was something I was interested in."
During college she interned for the Missouri state legislature and an ag biotech company, before deciding in her senior year that she wanted to go back to her native area and community. After some searching, an opportunity at Corteva presented itself. She began her early career leading and coordinating a team of high school and college-aged youth. She then worked on breeding corn varieties which truly resonated with her. It didn't take long for her to know she had found her calling.
4-H taught me...to not be afraid.
For Tiffany, it all goes back to that first speech. It made her aware that there is a much bigger world out there and if we don't take care of what we're given, we might lose it. Over time, that speech has evolved into something so much more.
"Without 4-H, I don't know that I would have ended up here. I went into my high school career in the National FFA willing to take chances and opportunities because I had already done that in 4-H. I built on the foundation of experiences that 4-H provided me with."
It helps you build resilience and confidence in yourself.
Now, Tiffany is happy to be raising a new generation of 4-H'ers. Her 10-year-old daughter is showing livestock and blooming into a confident youth who is finding her own passion and learning lessons through the highs and lows of raising livestock. Meanwhile, her 6-year-old son is anxiously waiting his turn to join 4-H and begin showing himself.
"This is the good thing about 4-H - it teaches you that sometimes life is going to have challenges and setbacks, but in the end, it helps you build resilience and confidence in yourself so you can seek and discover how you can make a difference."
CHEVY CHASE, MD. (August 30, 2022) - National 4-H Council has awarded New York Governor Kathy Hochul with the 4-H Distinguished Alumni Medallion, an honor given to an accomplished alumnus who embodies the life-changing impact of 4-H. Hochul, a New York 4-H alumna, is the first sitting governor to receive the award. National 4-H Council President & CEO Jennifer Sirangelo and 4-H'ers from Cornell Cooperative Extension presented the award to Hochul at the New York State Fair in Syracuse, New York on August 24, 2022.
4‑H's mission is to empower all young people-regardless of background-to find their spark, develop leadership skills, and drive positive change. Through diverse programming, life skills building, and mentorship, 4-H strives to eliminate the opportunity gap facing America's kids. Delivered by the nation's Cooperative Extension system, 4-H programs build the confidence, resilience, independence, and compassion needed for youth to succeed in life today and careers tomorrow.
"I am honored to receive this award from 4-H, a rock of an organization for girls and boys that helps to provide the tools they'll need as they grow. My time spent with the 4-H community has had a lasting impact on my life and career," said Governor Hochul. "At 10 years old, I gave my first public speech as a 4-H'er at the Erie County Fair and from there, I built the confidence, courage, and valuable life skills that I draw from to this day as governor of New York."
A native of Buffalo, New York, Hochul participated in Cornell Cooperative Extension's 4-H program throughout her childhood. Her experiences varied from cooking and sewing competitions at the fair to public speeches on how to make healthy recipes. She continues to be an avid fairgoer and never misses the opportunity to visit the 4-H exhibits and have meaningful interactions with 4-H'ers.
"Governor Hochul's compassion, integrity, and commitment to public service exemplify the 4-H pledge and serve as inspiration to 4-H'ers everywhere," said Jennifer Sirangelo, president and CEO, National 4-H Council. "Her trailblazing career is an example to young people that through determination, hard work, and persistence their dreams are within reach."
Previous recipients of the Distinguished Alumni Medallion include Aubrey Plaza, actor and producer; Craig Melvin, anchor, TODAY Show; Jennifer Nettles, Grammy-Award winning singer and songwriter; and Temple Grandin, Ph.D., best-selling author, autism activist, and consultant to the livestock industry.
National 4-H Council President & CEO Jennifer Sirangelo and 4-H'ers from Cornell Cooperative Extension present the 4-H Distinguished Alumni Medallion to New York Governor Kathy Hochul
4-H, the nation's largest youth development organization, grows confident young people who are empowered for life today and prepared for career tomorrow. 4-H programs empower nearly six million young people across the U.S. through experiences that develop critical life skills. 4-H is the youth development program of our nation's Cooperative Extension System and USDA and serves every county and parish in the U.S. through a network of 110 public universities and more than 3000 local Extension offices. Globally, 4-H collaborates with independent programs to empower one million youth in 50 countries. The research-backed 4-H experience grows young people who are four times more likely to contribute to their communities; two times more likely to make healthier choices; two times more likely to be civically active; and two times more likely to participate in STEM programs. Follow 4-H on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
Julia Majors, National 4-H Council
Have you ever wondered about the journey that your dollar takes when you give to National 4-H Council? For instance: how does a dollar donated at the national level impact the 4-H club in your hometown? Or, in what ways does your gift shape the 4-H experience for millions of young people?
First, let's start with what Council does so you can be confident about where your support goes.
National 4-H Council supports 4-H at all levels. If you've participated in a 4-H program, you know they're one-of-a-kind. We work with our land-grant university partners across the country to give young people opportunities they can't find anywhere else: opportunities for kids to discover their spark, form lasting relationships, and participate fully in the world around them. When you make a gift to Council, you're building 4-H's capacity nationwide and ensuring we can continue to grow to serve more kids.
Here are just a few ways your generosity to National 4-H Council makes a difference. We support positive youth development programming that:
Young people are introduced to caring mentors and friends at a time when it matters most.
"We have a little girl in the 4-H Youth & Families with Promise Club who told her mentor that she doesn't have any friends. The mentor told the 4-H staff member about what the little girl had said, so the coordinator introduced her to some girls in the club and told them to play a get-to-know-you game. The next day, the little girl's mom called the coordinator to report how excited her daughter was that she made new friends at 4-H. Since starting the program, her mother shared that she is much happier and more confident."
- A 4-H Volunteer
Kids learn life skills by overcoming personal challenges, discovering their passions and building their confidence.
"Because I have ADHD and high-functioning autism, I went to speech therapy to learn how to articulate what I wanted to say instead of rambling. 4-H was how I actually got to practice getting up in front of a group of people. I would not have done that before 4-H. It forced me to open myself up to those types of experiences and I learned that it wasn't as scary as I may have thought (and I actually was decent at it)!"
- A 4-H Youth
Our national positive youth development events - the Summit series and Citizenship Washington Focus - bring together young people from across the country to focus on areas of growth that will benefit them, their communities, our country, and our world.
"I received a phone call from a mother who was almost in tears. Her daughter had been struggling with bullying and a lack of interest in projects she used to enjoy. But after she attended the National 4-H Youth Summit on Agri-Science, her mother noticed a significant change. It was the first thing she had been really excited about in some time. She told us that her daughter passionately talks about the experience everywhere she goes and was even invited to visit an agritourism farm to share her knowledge with 150 elementary school youth - teaching them the importance of pollinators and their habitats. She thanked us for such a positive experience and for helping her daughter get back on a positive life track. She can't wait to see all the great things that will come from being an ambassador, and her daughter is now considering a career in teaching as she is enjoying it so much."
- A 4-H Agent
We make our programs scalable so that 4-H'ers can make a real difference in their communities while addressing larger national issues. For example, here's how our 4-H Tech Changemakers program, which gives teens the resources to bridge the digital divide, created a brighter future for a struggling mom in Mississippi:
"I am a mother of three boys, and we entered a domestic abuse center in July 2021. I know that I must find work to be able to provide for myself and my boys. The center is working with the 4-H Tech Changemakers Program and encouraged me to take part in it. At first, I said 'no' because I didn't think a teenager could teach me anything. But that all changed after the first session. They were great - so very helpful and so kind. The team is helping me develop the skills I need to research and apply for jobs."
- A Community Member
We meet urgent needs across the 4-H network. For example, National 4-H Council created an emergency assistance fund at the onset of the pandemic so that our Cooperative Extension System partners could ask for help where they needed it most. Nearly $300,000 was awarded through 24 grants - reaching 17,395 young people with virtual camps, activity kits, gardening workshops, and more.
"We all learned so much [through virtual camp] and didn't want it to end! I loved the mix of live events, activities at home, and support videos. You guys proved COVID won't ruin camp plans. My daughter is medically fragile…and she was THRILLED to be able to join in on all the fun without COVID concerns."
- A 4-H Parent
That's just a glimpse of your giving at work. Stories like these happen every day within the 4-H family because of incredible young people and the dedicated educators who inspire them, the caring mentors who encourage them, and the generous donors (like you!) who support them.
Just like the youth we serve, your gift to National 4-H Council is limitless in how it can impact the world.
I walked through a dirt road riddled with potholes. To my left, I saw a deserted primary school with a collapsed foundation. To my right, I gazed upon a medical clinic that is almost always empty and void of a doctor. I look at homes on the street, many of which are small amid a periodic power outage. I thought back to life in the United States. It astonished me that the difference in the quality of life between two parts of the world is so stark. Initially, a sense of helplessness took over me - how could a young person like me fix such wide-ranging issues? I thought of a quote by Steve Jobs: "Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you. And you can change it, you can influence it, and you can build your own things that other people can use."
While I was only in eighth grade when I visited NP Kunta, the rural Indian village that my dad grew up in, I had been "building my own things" for years. With my local 4-H robotics team, I had been challenged to think creatively and work resourcefully with my teammates to solve seemingly impossible problems, from debugging code to programming a vision processing system for our robot. Because I had solved big problems in the past, I was confident that I could, in fact, change the world issues I had witnessed. For this reason, in 2018 I founded Universal Help Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for people around the world in innovative ways. I lead the charity in tackling issues ranging from opportunity inequality to climate change, among other initiatives. One of our most significant accomplishments has been building a fully equipped 30-bed isolation center for COVID patients in Hyderabad.
In May of 2021, both my grandparents got sick with the COVID-19 Delta variant. Living on the other side of the world, there was little I could do. As their conditions worsened and my grandma needed hospitalization, the true scale of the national shortage for healthcare became evident. After hours of calling family, friends and extended relatives, we successfully secured a hospital bed for my grandma. Others in India weren't as fortunate, as hospitals denied people ICU beds, COVID-19 treatments and oxygen due to high demand and short supply. Not only that but with the high population density that Indian cities have, many patients were forced to quarantine near their families, risking the health of their loved ones. When I realized this issue, I got to work. I obtained support from the local government to partially fund an isolation center and organized onsite nurses, doctors and medical supplies for the center. Beds were always full with patients needing ventilators and extra medical care. I have no doubt Universal Help's efforts have had far-reaching impacts on the city and its residents.
Today, I look back at this project and think about how it all started - from my insistence to improve living conditions in my father's village to my disbelief at the lack of medical care in India during the Delta surge. If I had believed my doubts, this life-changing project would not have happened. However, with the confidence and problem-solving skills I gained through my 4-H robotics club, I was able to find the courage to change, influence and build things which transformed lives.
As educators, community activists, industry experts, innovators, and leaders, these 4-H trailblazers are paving the way for generations to come. Get to know this month's trailblazing youth, alumni, and supporters who have created change and opportunity within their communities and bring the 4-H mission to life.
Jesse Lee Eller
CEO & Founder, Studio 5 - Learning + Development, Inc.
As CEO and Founder of a Certified LGBT Business Enterprise® by the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce, he understands what it means to honor and value the diversity of people and of thought. Through his leadership and guidance, Studio 5 empowers people to do the best work of their lives through meaningful thought partnerships with the world’s leading human-centered organizations. In 2015, Jesse founded and launched the Cultivating Change Foundation - the largest organization globally that focuses on valuing and elevating LGBT agriculturists.
Chief People Officer, Studio 5 - Learning + Development, Inc.
With a passion for people development and organizational change, Marcus served as the Executive Director of the Cultivating Change Foundation, a 501(c)(3) aimed at valuing and elevating LGBT agriculturists through advocacy, education, and community. At Studio 5, his focus is on building the ecosystem to attract and retain top tier talent by creating the conditions that produce a meaningful employee experience. He believes that human capital is the most valuable asset to have and that the development of people in an organization is vital to its success.
Former Secretary of Agriculture, USDA
Once named one of Forbes most powerful women, Ann Veneman has earned her place in history, both nationally and internationally. Veneman’s first notable role was serving as the Secretary of Agriculture, where she is the only woman to date to hold the position. In 2005, she was appointed as the fifth executive director of UNICEF, where she advocated for solving global hunger and children’s and women’s rights.
Dr. Carrie Castille
From Assistant Professor at Louisiana State University to state director of the Louisiana Rural Development, Dr. Carrie Castille has spent her career being a champion for education, agriculture, and rural issues. After several roles and a number of Louisiana state honors— she was the first woman inducted into the University of Louisiana Lafayette College of Engineering Hall of Distinction—today, Dr. Castille is the first woman to serve as director of USDA-NIFA in a non-acting capacity.
Congresswoman Terri Sewell
US Representative, Alabama
Congresswoman Terri Sewell credits her experiences in Alabama 4-H and a number of mentors for investing in her. Among her many accomplishments, she is notably the first woman elected to Congress in Alabama and the first Black woman to serve in the Alabama Congressional Delegation. Today, she uses her platform to advocate for voter rights and equality.
President & CEO, National 4-H Council
As the first female to serve as president and CEO at National 4-H Council, she has been named one of Fast Company’s Most Creative People in Business and recipient of the Female Executive of the Year Award.
Dr. Peggy Whitson has spent more time in space than any other American. She is the first woman to command the International Space Station, the first non-military Chief of the Astronaut Corps, and has completed 10 spacewalks – the most of any female astronaut. But before she became comfortable living in zero gravity, she had her hands planted firmly in the earth. She grew up on a farm outside Beaconsfield, Iowa, where her family raised cattle and hogs and grew corn and soybeans.
She knew early on she loved science, and soon she dreamed of becoming an astronaut. So how does a kid go from living and working on a farm to working on the International Space Station? We asked, and she graciously answered.
What 4‑H activities did you participate in growing up?
Dr. Peggy Whitson (PW): I showed heifers. I did woodworking. I did sewing. I did some baking projects. But for me, the most valuable thing was learning to do public speaking. Being a very shy person, that was an incredibly valuable lesson. I can’t imagine being where I am today had I not learned about public speaking and being able to do that effectively.
When did you first set the goal of becoming an astronaut?
PW: My first inspiration was, of course, when I was nine years old and I watched the walk on the moon. But seeing the first female astronauts selected the year I graduated from high school (1978), it seemed like it was possible for me, too. And so, for me, that’s when my dream became a goal.
Whitson developed public speaking skills through 4-H presentations.
What was the process of taking that goal and making it a reality? You had to at some point figure out a path, when did it come together?
PW: I didn’t know exactly how to make it come together, but I was really interested in science and I figured, astronauts had to be smart people. And I knew I wanted to be a scientist. In that first female astronaut class, there was a biochemist, and it made me think, ‘Oh, hey, I could pursue my interest in biology and chemistry and make that into becoming an astronaut.’
When I finished graduate school, I started applying to become an astronaut. It took 10 years of applications and rejections before I was finally accepted to the training program. But I started at NASA with a fellowship. From there, I ended up getting a job with one of the contractors that worked at NASA, then I started working for NASA directly a few years after that. And then, after 10 years, they decided I might be okay to become an astronaut.
It took 10 years to make it into the astronaut training program. People usually don’t see the rejection and “No’s” before someone’s achievement.
PW: There were a lot of “No’s” along the way. And in retrospect, those 10 years made me a better astronaut. Those years made me a leader. You need to learn along the way that even if your path is not a straight line, you have to learn from all the lessons that are around you, what you’re being exposed to. I really think it’s very, very important for young people to realize that you can go through life taking the easy path and do the things that are just easy for you, but you’re never going to find out what you’re truly capable of unless you push beyond your comfort zone.
How do kids today become an astronaut? How should they pursue their dream?
PW: The number one thing is that NASA is looking for astronauts in all kinds of fields – science, engineering, every field. It’s really important to know what it is that drives you and motivates you because you need to be really good at it in order to be noticed out of thousands of people who are going to apply for the same job. You have to be a really good team player. You have to have enough different experiences in life to demonstrate that you know how to be adaptable. So, you need to be very good at something, and you also need to be a jack of all trades.
What about physical requirements?
PW: You have to be able to do spacewalks and you have to be able to think in three dimensions to do robotics. And so, it’s all part of the big picture, being able to do lots of different things.
What does an astronaut do when they aren’t in space and if they aren’t selected for the mission? Do astronauts go years without going into orbit?
PW: When I came through the Astronaut Office, there was, on average, around five to seven years between missions. Most of your life is a ground job. And that ground job is usually helping someone who is currently in orbit, like working in mission control or working on procedures for crew members who are going to be flying in the future. Or working on training to improve the training process, so we can get it done more efficiently and more effectively.
Statistics show American students are underperforming in STEM compared to other countries. What should we be doing differently from an educational standpoint?
PW: For young girls, it’s perceived as not being cool as they reach teenage years. So, it’s been my goal to promote that, “Hey, nerds are cool too.” We need to promote it and show our young people that you can do this and that there are other people who have done it. I think seeing role models that are like them helps. It certainly did for me. When I graduated high school, seeing those first female astronauts truly helped me believe that this dream I had could be real.
Although I’ve grown up on a farm my whole life, I didn’t come from a 4‑H family. In fact, it wasn’t until I was in third grade that I even began to understand what 4‑H was. Some family friends encouraged me to get involved with some of the programming that 4‑H has to offer, and after talking to them, I knew I wanted to get involved. I went to their house, and I immediately fell in love with all of their cute, fluffy cows. That one positive experience with them turned into a 10-year career that was filled with a broad variety of programs, competitions, and even starting a family livestock business.
This interview is a part of a series of blogs supporting 4‑H’s Community Impact program emphasizing Diversity, Equity, Inclusion – an effort sponsored by Nationwide®
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