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Jennifer Nettles: Helping True Leaders Find Their Passion

by Kara Reinsel

Jennifer Nettles on 4‑H

Watch Jennifer’s “green carpet” interview from the 2016 4‑H Legacy Awards.

Grammy Award-winning singer and 4‑H alumna Jennifer Nettles spoke to youth leaders on Tuesday, April 12, during 4‑H Grow True Leaders Week at the National 4‑H Conference Center in Washington, D.C. Nettles also presented at National 4‑H Council’s 7th Annual Legacy Awards and attended 4‑H’s Congressional Breakfast where she introduced National Youth in Action Winner Ruwanthi Ekanayake.

The singer, who rose to fame as part of the band Sugarland and is preparing to release a solo album, said she would not be where she is in the music industry without opportunities she received through 4‑H.

When she was in sixth grade, Nettles joined the Georgia 4‑H performing arts group, Clovers and Co. “For me I think that was pivotal in helping me become the leader and the artist I am today,” she said. “I learned so much about shows, music, putting on a show, building a show and all these things that continue to serve me in my work today.”

The group also gave her opportunities she would not have had otherwise, including her very first airplane ride, when she went to Chicago to perform at the 4‑H National Congress.

It set the ground work very early on for what it means to get serious, and at the same time it was the first time I was surrounded by kids who were like me, who had dreams in the performing arts. That was a big deal for a little girl from a small town.

4‑H is still offering a variety of leadership opportunities for kids today, Nettles said. “What it did for kids when it first originated in terms of agricultural science it now does in terms of computer science and other things like graphic design and performing arts,” she said. “I’ve meet kids this week who so impressed me, who were so articulate in their projects, everything from healthy living to the STEM program, robotics, all of this.”

One of those kids was 12-year-old Callista Clark, a current Clovers and Co. member. Clark joined Nettles onstage on Tuesday to duet on “Baby Girl,” Nettles’ hit song with her trio, Sugarland. The duo later reprised their performance at the Legacy Awards Gala.

Nettles said that she urges kids who want to explore a variety of topics and projects to get involved in 4‑H. The programs help kids figure out what they’re interested in, introduce them to others with the same interests and support them in learning more about it.

“What I think 4‑H does best is it encourages kids to explore and find their passion,” Nettles said. “I think that’s important because that – having passion – is what creates a great leader. You can’t have good leadership if you’re not passionate about what it is that you’re leading people toward.”

This year’s event kicked off 4‑H’s new Grow True Leaders Campaign. The campaign is aimed at giving kids opportunities to develop life skills so they’re prepared to become the leaders they need to be in their lives today and aspire to being the future.

While a majority of students in a recent 4‑H survey said they felt obligated to be leaders, most said they felt they did not have the skills needed to lead. When asked about why they are not leading, most said this was simply because they had never been asked to lead or been given an opportunity to lead.

4‑H’s Grow True Leaders Campaign will give kids opportunities to voice their opinions by asking them about the problems that are most pressing to future generations and bringing teams of young people together to come up with solutions. Adult allies can support the campaign by shouting out youth leaders at www.4‑H.org/SHOUT.

So what does Jennifer Nettles say it takes to be a leader?

“Charisma, the ‘It factor’ and some sort of integrity compass,” the country singer said.

As the youth leaders who met her can attest, this proud 4‑H alumna certainly has all three!

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