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4-H empowers young woman to dream of seat in legislature

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Sydney English has met more state lawmakers in her 16 years than most people do in a lifetime. All that exposure has set her on a path toward her own career in politics.

“My dad is a lawyer and works for the county clerk of court. I always thought I might go into government, but I didn’t get the drive to do it until I got involved in 4-H,” said the long-time 4-H member from Santa Rosa County. 4-H is a statewide youth development program administered by the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension.

“I went to 4-H Day at the Capitol when I was eight years old, and that was my first big 4-H event,” said English, who had never before been to the state capitol building in Tallahassee. “I’ve been many times since, and I was subcommittee chair for 4-H Day at the Capitol. I’ve gotten to talk to a bunch of the state representatives and senators. We got a chance recently to talk to the senate agricultural committee and meet with the governor’s aid as well.”

This year’s 4-H Day at the Capitol is set for Feb. 22 and begins at 8:30 a.m. More than 700 participants are expected to attend. During the day, youth will meet with their local representatives to talk about the impact of 4-H on Florida youth.

Seeing how lawmakers work firsthand is an empowering experience, especially for young women, who more and more are interested in being a part of the democratic process, English said.

“There are a lot of professions that used to be typically a woman’s profession or a man’s profession. It’s great to see those who are breaking the mold right now and saying, ‘this is what I like to do and I’m good at it.’ I think it’s great for any young woman to have any and every opportunity to do what they’re passionate about,” English said.

Her dream is to one day be on the other side of 4-H Day at the Capitol.

“I will definitely seek a legislative position, whether as a representative or senator, either at the state or national level,” English said. “As far as getting there, I’ve started with my associate’s degree through dual enrollment at my local community college. Then I want to do a pre-law bachelor’s and then a law degree.”

4-H has taught her what it means to be a good leader, she said. For one, you have to be a good listener.

“To be a good leader you have to be open-minded. Being a leader is all about talking with others, and you can’t be a leader if you don’t know what’s going on with your followers,” English said.

English’s interest in leadership also is inspired by a role model close to home.

“My definition of a good leader is my county 4-H agent, Prudence Caskey. As I write my college application essays, she’s always the person I talk about. Our 4-H program is small, but she always makes sure we have the best experience,” English said.

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The mission of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is to develop knowledge relevant to agricultural, human and natural resources and to make that knowledge available to sustain and enhance the quality of human life. With more than a dozen research facilities, 67 county Extension offices, and award-winning students and faculty in the UF College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, UF/IFAS works to bring science-based solutions to the state’s agricultural and natural resources industries, and all Florida residents. Visit the UF/IFAS web site at ifas.ufl.edu and follow us on social media at @UF_IFAS.

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