I was eight years old when I first saw food insecurity in my community.
Through Bloomington/Normal's annual Diwali Food Drive, I witnessed the impacts of hunger firsthand, as I collected, organized, and delivered nonperishable food items to several local charitable organizations. That was the first time I realized that kids like me-families just like mine-struggled with something many of us take for granted: healthy, nutritious food. The issue of food insecurity particularly intrigued me because it seemed as if it was often ignored, despite the fundamental role health plays in the lives of everyday Americans. However, as I grew, 4-H provided me with an arena to address this challenge.
First through the McLean County Hunger Ambassadors, and later on through [former] Illinois Food Advocacy Team and Illinois Healthy Living Delegation, I was able to work with 4H-ers statewide to improve food security and healthy living in Illinois. Most significantly, our team rolled out $23,600 in mini-grant funding, supporting 30 youth-led food advocacy projects-varying from SPIN club community gardens to birthday backpack kits-over the span of two years.
However, never did I think that I would have the honor of representing 4-H at the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health this past September. As a speaker in conversation with the Second Gentleman and Ambassador Susan Rice, I had the opportunity to share my food advocacy and healthy living story and represent 4-H on a national stage. Furthermore, as an attendee of the conference, I was amazed by the profound impact speakers from across the country had had on their communities when it came to supporting healthy living. Whether it was hearing about Boston Public Schools' innovative "My Way Cafes", or being galvanized by guest speaker José Andrés' call-to-action, my main takeaway was clear: there is no limit to the power of a passionate individual rallying behind a project.
Of course, with the amazing resources that 4-H can provide its members, I am certain that our youth can play an essential role in leading the charge to improve healthy living across our country. And so, to those youth impassioned by the idea of eliminating food insecurity, I have a few suggestions:
1) Start out small:
Tackling a convoluted issue like food insecurity can seem impossible at first, but instead, if you can find one community to leave an impact on, you'll be amazed at the impact you can have.
2) Find a team to support you:
The great thing about this point is that you've already got one: 4-H! An organization like 4-H, can provide you with the mentors, resources, and passionate peers you need to sustain a project idea you might have. Chances are, your extension or state is already doing something to address healthy living, and you can use that as a connection point to get started on your own project.
3) Don't be afraid to fail:
This one might seem a little odd, but I mean it wholeheartedly. Don't let your fears-your age or inexperience or whatever else-put you in a box. Dream big about your impact and follow through with the work ethic to back it up! You might not always achieve your goals, but you will definitely learn from the experience.
As announced at the Conference, it is our nation's imperative to end hunger in our country by 2030. I hope you will join 4-H in achieving that mission. After all, the 4th H is indeed health.