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.
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.
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.
We're proud of the cultural diversity throughout 4-H and are made better because of it. Join us as we celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, and embrace the diversity of multiple origins, cultures, and traditions. UNIDOS, we grow together! #Thisis4H
Hispanic Heritage Month is celebrated on September 15-October 15. During this time (and beyond), we highlight the programs and partners that significantly impact Latino youth, families, and communities. One program, in particular, is Juntos 4-H.
A 4-H member since moving from Puerto Rico at age 10, Cassey loves working with people and discovering common interests. Equally proud of her 4-H community and Puerto Rican heritage, her enthusiasm is contagious and drives her love of volunteering and helping people.
With wind-swept vistas, grassy hills and wide-open spaces, Matias holds a lifetime of memories of visiting his Abuela on their family farm in the Patagonia region of Argentina. Having travelled there since he was a baby, Matias cherishes his heritage and enjoys exploring the vast countryside via horseback.
Growing up abroad and with language difficulties, life wasn't easy for Matias. Feeling like an outsider, he struggled to fit in. Not until he was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder did he understand the source of his anxieties. After joining 4-H and winning a science fair ribbon, a spark ignited in him. Opening his eyes to a new world, 4-H provided a place where Matias not only felt welcome but was able to pursue his passion for science.
As an Illinois 4-H'er and an Agriculture Pillar winner, sponsored by Bayer, Matias has developed and cherishes friendships in 4-H with people from different heritages. He feels they connect through common ideas and projects-helping each other learn and succeed. Grateful for his inclusive experience, Matias believes 4-H is truly his shared community.
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
As the firstborn child of two Cameroonian immigrants the path of my life has been an immovable blueprint, a vicarious manifestation of my parent's dreams. Go to school, graduate with high marks, become a doctor, support the family, and set the precedent for those who come after you. Being inept and failing is not an option. Additionally, having lived in predominantly white towns for most of my life, the perpetuated monolithic tropes of young black women aren't beneficial for survival. To survive, I wield code-switching like a sword with many faces. Neither of these factors enabled my emotional fluidity. I was expected to only showcase my strengths. I felt trapped and isolated.
To combat this, I facilitated race relations discussions amongst my peers and adults within my community. When asked why, I habitually said what people wanted to hear. I'd reply, "Racism is a viral societal ill that must be combatted one uncomfortable conversation at a time. I am advocating for anti-racism because the voices of people of color deserve to be amplified. We deserve visibility." This response is correct socially and politically, but it wasn't honest. My guard was still up, and I began to question myself more. Why was I really doing this? I summed it up to two factors.
First, by facilitating these discussions, I gave myself permission to be vulnerable. I was afraid of being perceived as frail, inadequate, or a victim. I viewed my vulnerability as a weapon to be used against me, rather than a strength I can utilize upon my own volition. With every unfiltered conversation, I began to free myself. Being able to lay my pain out in front of others was relieving. With that relief I invited others to be vulnerable as well, to share their stories, relay their pain or lack of understanding, and with that understanding came increased empathy.
By facilitating these workshops and cultivating empathy within my community, others have experienced that freedom as well. My 4-H peers and I started to bridge the gap between young people and law enforcement, freeing one another from preconceived grudges and historical challenges. Our outreach expanded as other 4-H clubs across New York State were inspired to host their own Race and Reconciliation workshops too. In my own school, I was empowered to create a safe space for students of many different backgrounds and identities to feel free as themselves. In collaboration with the school board, my peers and I created a "Diversity Cafe", a space within our school's library that would enable students to meet with each other, share their stories, and embrace their differences. I am proud to say our leadership inspired our school to start constructing the Diversity Cafe, which will be completed this year. I hope this will be a space for future 4-H teen leaders to teach the values of advocacy and hospitality to all.
As a Youth in Action Pillar Winner, I am using my platform to educate others on anti-racism and to find new ways to foster safe spaces for my peers inside and outside 4-H. I've also continued my Race and Reconciliation work here at The George Washington University through the Women's Leadership Program. In collaboration with another student, we conducted a workshop titled, "Understanding and Supporting Non-Dominant Race and Gender Identities". This sparked numerous introspective conversations about ways to support one another through societal struggles and because of this workshop, we were even awarded the Humphries Leadership Award for Spring 2022.
I know there is still work to be done, but at the end of it all, I just hope to create freedom for my peers: for emotions and self-expression, for empathy and understanding.
National 4‑H Council and the Invisalign® brand have launched a partnership to empower and recognize young people who are creating change in their communities through acts of kindness and service—big and small. Because everyone—especially our youth—should be seen and celebrated for the good they are doing in the world.
I caught up with Kamal Bhandal, VP of Global Brand and Consumer Marketing for Align Technology, to talk more about the Invisalign® ChangeMakers Initiative and how the mother of two is inspiring her children to be a positive influence in their community.
What is a ‘ChangeMaker’?
Kamal Bhandal (KB): Simply put, a ‘ChangeMaker’ is someone who springs into action to solve a problem for the greater good of a community.
In what ways do you think the Invisalign® ChangeMakers Initiative will inspire young people to become change agents in their community?
KB: Everywhere you look, young people are actively driving change within their communities. In some instances, it may be a young person who leads a local blanket drive to donate to the local shelter, or it may be the young leader who activates their local school district to provide school lunches for families during the pandemic. There are many more examples all around the country, and often these are local stories that aren’t widely known, but provide tremendous impact in the community.
Align Technology’s Invisalign brand, in partnership with National 4‑H Council, has launched the Invisalign® ChangeMakers initiative to shine a light on these stories and elevate the young people who are driving change within their communities and bringing smiles. In doing so, we hope that more young people can see how teens just like them and feel connected to a larger youth community. Our collective goal with this partnership is to spotlight those inspiring stories so that every young person can see themselves as someone who can drive positive change within their communities.
Can you share some of the work Align Technology leads to inspire change in communities and how today’s youth can help support those efforts?
KB: Align is committed to improving the lives of our employees, customers, patients, stakeholders, and the communities in which we live and work. Our philanthropic philosophy is to support organizations whose visions tie closely to our own – improving smiles, empowering our customers through partnerships with learning institutions and foundations, and supporting and educating teens.
We are committed to developing youth leaders around the world. Here in the US, we’re actively partnering with leading organizations—like 4‑H—who are also committed to shaping and developing youth. Other partners include Junior Achievement including their S.H.E. Leads program, Boys & Girls Clubs of America, and Cristo Rey San Jose High School. Our partnerships with these organizations include mentoring, program support, as well as workshops that cultivate critical business and STEM skills, corporate work-study programs, and internships. Today’s youth can support these efforts by getting involved with the local chapters of any one of these programs.
As a mom of school-aged children, how are you inspiring them to be ChangeMakers? Why are those teachings so important?
KB: As a mom of a teen and a tween, I try to focus on a few things: (1) exposing the kids to a range of perspectives; (2) fostering empathy for others; and (3) supporting areas of individual interest. The teen years are a critical time in brain development as teenagers have an increased capacity to appreciate various perspectives. By learning about different communities and various ways to solve problems, it not only helps increase awareness of the variety of challenges that exist within communities, but it also stimulates more creative thinking on how problems can be solved. When it comes to having empathy for others, we try to create learning experiences that foster a sense of empathy—such as through volunteering or random acts of kindness—and provide support for a specific area of interest that is important for each of them. However small or large the individual interest area may be, we try to support and encourage the kids to drive change that will create positive impact, and also experience how that feels.
How do we continue to give young people a platform to share their ideas, experiences and innovation, and how will those ideas impact the future?
KB: Organizations like 4‑H that celebrate and support youth in cultivating their ideas are critical. Today’s youth are full of ideas and creative solutions that can help drive positive changes that will enhance the lives of others who are a part of their community – large or small. To give young people a platform to share their ideas, it’s critical that we:
4-H youth across the country are using their skills, passions, and drive to make a remarkable impact in their communities. From the youngest 4-H’er to young alumni, they see great value in giving back and inspiring those around them to do the same.
Through a collaboration with NBC News Learn, 4-H is telling the story of five young women who are making a difference in their communities. These stories, sponsored by Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Bechtel, and Bayer, highlight their work in critical areas from computer science to health equity and show how their experience in 4-H empowered them to share their voices and be leaders.
Meet Addy, Pearl, Aja, Dani Jo, and Mayyadah, and learn more about their story, featured in the new NBC News Learn series, 4-H Inspires Kids to Do.
Michigan 4-H’ers Addy and Pearl used their leadership skills gained through 4-H to give back to their hometown of Cass City, MI, when it became a food desert. Through Michigan State University Extension, they created Meating the Need for Our Village, a program designed to fight hunger through agriculture. Overall, the program has made a $60,000 impact on the community by providing 2,500 gallons of milk, 10,000 pounds of meat, and 270 dozen eggs to families in need.
Illinois 4-H’er Aja’s passion was ignited through her frustration with the under-represented minority STEM gap. She started See Me in STEM, with a mission to provide exposure, access, and STEM opportunities to underrepresented youth. She partnered with her 4-H mentor through the University of Illinois Extension to launch her program and has since impacted 122+ youth through 15 events.
Utah 4-H’er Dani Jo has a personal passion for educating youth and community members on opioid addiction and the impact it has on lives. She formed a youth coalition to spread the word about the dangers of opioids and resources people can turn to for help. Through community events and partnering with community leaders such as the Sheriff’s Department, the coalition is working to educate their peers and families on properly disposing of opioids and other medications and encouraging doctors and pharmacists to be mindful of the number of pills they are prescribing.