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Congressman Rooney Leaves Legacy with Okeechobee 4-H Program

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — You never know what will inspire a young person to step up and become a leader. But when that inspiration hits, it’s unmistakable.

“When kids have the opportunity to express themselves and do some good in their community, a lightbulb goes off. They see the leader within themselves,” said U.S. Congressman Tom Rooney, who represents Florida’s 17th district.

Moments like these are what moved Rooney to support local Florida 4-H youth in Okeechobee County. His gift has created an endowment that will allow more young people to participate in 4-H leadership activities, as well as provide post-high school scholarships for graduating members.

To him, this gift is about growing the leaders of tomorrow. He recalls attending a local 4-H function where he talked to 4-H members about public speaking, one of the leadership activities available through 4-H. He gave them tips he’s learned as a congressman, though he was impressed by what they had already learned through 4-H.

“This gift can set the table for more kids to see what leadership means to them,” Rooney said.

Part of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension, county 4-H programs provide hands-on learning opportunities for youth in the areas of leadership, community service, science and healthy living. This learn-by-doing approach prepares kids to be productive adults and citizens.

“The generosity of Congressman Rooney is an example of leadership we hope to inspire in our kids, enabling us to “Make the Best Better!” said Lauren Butler, director of UF/IFAS Extension Okeechobee County.

Rooney also sees the endowment as a way to support his community as a whole.

“I love the idea of giving to my alma mater, UF, and in a way that helps children and the agricultural community at large,” he said. “The ag community has been so important to me personally — I’ve met some of the greatest people there, and I want my name to be associated with that community.”

As he leaves office, Rooney knows that supporting his local UF/IFAS Extension program means his legacy will be in good hands. It’s also a way to continue helping agriculture in Florida for generations to come.

“Supporting Extension and 4-H gives you a peace of mind. This is a partnership of UF and local entities; it’s something that’s going to be done right and will last. I encourage people to support these programs because if you care about feeding people, you have to care about the future of ag. I hope to continue supporting programs like these.”

To learn how to support your local 4-H program, contact Mendy Allen at or (352) 294-0886.


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 and follow us on social media at @UF_IFAS.