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500 Youth Attend 4-H Congress, Call It A Smashing Success

Ami Neiberger & Mamie Wise, Florida 4-H

GAINESVILLE More than 500 youth attended Florida 4-H Congress July 28- August 1 on the University of Florida campus in Gainesville. A talent show, state-level competitions, educational workshops, state officer elections, community service projects, scholarship and award presentations kept the teens busy.

“The theme of this year’s Congress was “dreaming with your eyes wide open. This event showcases the best our young people have to offer,” said Nadine Hackler, acting assistant dean for the Florida 4-H Youth Development Program. “4-H is working to prepare young people for success in life, and this is a celebration of their achievement.”

“Don’t ever let anyone take away your dreams because they are your treasures,” said Patrick Grady in his keynote address to kickoff the week. “What kind of contribution are you making to your club, to your community and to our world? Being a strong 4-H member today will last you a lifetime. That is the key to your success.”

Ranging from topics like animal and plant sciences to auto driving, human development and public speaking, a full day was devoted to state-level competitions. More than $25,000 in scholarship money was awarded to youth on their way to college. Volunteers and adults who contributed to the 4-H program with time and resources were featured at an awards assembly.

The biggest honor, membership in the 4-H Golden Circle of Friends, went to the U.S. Sugar Corporation for their sustained support of 4-H environmental education curriculum. “We consider 4-H clubs to be an investment in the future,” said Andy Rackley, Director of Corporate Affairs and Growers Relations as he received the award.

“We believe in partnering with youth and in hands-on learning,” said Alden Hilliker, a youth development specialist in the Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences at UF. “A committee of youth is very involved in planning and running 4-H Congress. Sharing responsibility for a major event gives kids an opportunity to gain leadership skills.”

Florida 4-H Council officers were elected and then installed with a ceremony by candlelight. “Every president puts a notch in this gavel to show what they have invested in the 4-H program,” said outgoing president Carrie Harn as she passed the gavel to incoming president Andy King from Lee County.

The other new council officers are: Vice-President: Dixie Renney, Citrus County, Secretary: Tiffany Browning, St. Johns County, Treasurer: Holly Belcher, Leon County, Reporter: Katie Mullins, Santa Rosa County, Historian: Tracy Prentice, Dade County, Parliamentarian: Mercy Roberg, Manatee County, and Sergeant-at-Arms: Bradley Heron, Broward County.

The teens participated in two-day workshops geared around topics like food and nutrition, leadership, animal science, horticulture and the media. “In-depth workshops help kids explore subjects they find interesting,” said Alden Hilliker. “We emphasize the theme of making the best better. No matter what interests them now or later in life, we want for them to strive for excellence in all they do.”

Putting into practice what 4-H is all about, fifty 4-Hers participated at community service projects for two local charities–St. Francis House, a shelter for the homeless, and Alachua Habitat for Humanity’s resale center. They picked up trash, washed dishes, mowed the lawn, inventoried materials, and painted walls and baseboards.

It was definitely an educational experience. “It’s always good to help out your community when it is in need,” said 4-Her Kari Thiel from Lake County as she worked at the St. Francis House. Kearra Bradshaw from Orange County commented, “Helping the homeless really makes you realize all of the blessings you’ve received.”

“You contributed a lot in the short time that you were here, ” said Tim Fogarty, the executive director of St. Francis House, as he thanked them for their efforts. “It’s great to see youth making such a positive impact on their community,” said Mark Hinnebusch, the President of Alachua Habitat for Humanity. “A tradition of community service will carry with them throughout their lives. I’m glad there are organizations for kids like 4-H.”

The 1997 Florida 4-H Congress was sponsored by the Florida 4-H Youth Development Program. A committee of youth from around the state assisted with planning the event. 4-H is part of the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences at the University of Florida. Over 285,000 young people annually participate and benefit from 4-H educational programming in Florida.

–30–Photo available showing youth at auto driving contest. Contact Milt Putnam or Tom Wright at (352) 392-1773. Contact Ami Neiberger (352) 846-0996 ext. 231 for awards lists in specific categories if desired.