Rural America is beautiful and is the heart of this country. I was born and raised in rural south-central Virginia in Charlotte County, and I love my community. It is my home. Unfortunately, there is a “Digital Divide” in our country that’s impacting opportunities in rural areas.

Businesses that have left rural communities that were dependent on them are suffering, and many rural communities have workforces that are not ready for the 21st-century workplace. As a result of the lack of sustainable jobs, the youth of these communities leave for better opportunities. It hurts the rural local economy by causing a ‘drain,’ and the loss of young people reduces new ideas and entrepreneurship, which further reducing local growth.

Many communities are impacted and must ask themselves, “How can we fix this?” The answer comes in the form of a 4‑H program. 4‑H Tech Changemakers is a teen-led program that empowers young people to change their community’s future using technology and digital skills.

The program introduces teens to opportunities that will help them build leadership skills, take action, present to local government officials, and develop a strong, positive reputation in their community. Teens participating in the program grow into responsible contributing citizens in an environment where they can make decisions and mistakes safely.

Through the 4‑H Tech Changemakers program in my county, we teach website development, social media marketing, and drone mapping to local farmers. We have met with the state governor, supported our local growers’ association, and even helped save the loss of over two acres of soybeans of a local farmer using a drone. I have spoken to over 200 4‑H professionals and youth about how important digital skills can be in helping rural economies thrive and keeping young people, like myself, contributing to the future of their town.