Imagine standing in the Florida State Capitol courtyard amongst hundreds of your peers listening to people up on the Capitol steps that sound and look like you. Even amongst a sea of green shirts, the green jackets you see on stage stand out, and those wearing them invite you to join them in being active citizens for the day. They empower you to be the experts on your 4-H experiences. You walk away from the courtyard feeling inspired to be an active citizen and one day turn in your green polo for that green jacket.
This has been the experience for Hayden Hawes and Carolyn Wolking, two of your 2021-2022 Florida 4-H State Council officers. At a young age, Hayden and Carolyn began attending Florida 4-H Day at the Capitol, where they were inspired to pursue state level leadership and be role models that continue to empower future generations.
As Florida 4-H’s largest annual event, Day at the Capitol brings youth, volunteers, families, and professionals from across the state to Tallahassee to learn more about their state government and experience the political process firsthand. 4-H members can make an appointment with their legislator, hear from elected officials, spend time in the Capitol building, and see their legislators in action. This year saw more than 900 green shirts fill the Capitol as Hayden and Carolyn addressed them from the Capitol steps.
Hayden and Carolyn sat down with me, Derby Sale, Florida 4-H State Council advisor, to discuss their journey and experiences with Florida 4-H Day at the Capitol, how it inspired them to become State Council officers, and how they were able to continue their learning about civic engagement through another event, Florida 4-H Legislature, which is set for June.
Derby: Tell us about your journey and experiences with Florida 4-H Day at the Capitol.
Hayden: For me personally, I started out as a Day at the Capitol participant about 9 years ago. As a young 4-H’er, I was impressed by the leadership skills of the state officers. I was in awe of the Commissioner of Agriculture giving their speech. I was simply just a happy joyful participant soaking in the event. To now be up on stage as the State Council president and be that person that I looked up to as a kid was surreal to me.
Carolyn: Going to Tallahassee the first time, being in the Capitol next to so many important people was fascinating. I remember a couple years ago when Taylor Dykes, a past State Council president from the same county as me in Alachua and a close friend, was up on the Capitol steps doing those big speaking parts. It was mind blowing! Everyone from our county was so excited to be like “that’s Taylor! Oh my gosh, he’s wearing a green jacket. He’s up on stage speaking to all these people.” It was so inspiring. Now there are little kids that are looking at me the same as I did Taylor and are possibly being inspired just as I was.
Derby: If you take yourself back to your first Day at the Capitol, what were some of the thoughts and feelings coming up for you during that experience?
Hayden: Like Carolyn mentioned about Taylor, I got to see someone from the same county as me in Broward, Rose Ducanis, addressing everyone at the event. To me, it was so impressive to see someone that I knew and think about how I could be up there one day. This gave me a goal to shoot for. I was left thinking “Wow! How will I ever get up there and address this big of a crowd?” When you see your peers doing great things like that, it gives you a goal to shoot for.
Carolyn: One of the things I remember most is seeing all the kids wearing green. Being in shock that there are so many 4-H’ers in Florida. Being that young, you’ve never been to a state event, so you have no clue. All the people I know are just at the county level and even that seemed massive. To see us all line up on the steps for a group photo and think all these people do projects like me and have something in common. That was cool.
Derby: Carolyn, as the chair of the youth-adult planning committee for Day at the Capitol, were you able to develop any skills that will help you in the workplace?
Carolyn: Scheduling and using our resources wisely were big ones for me. In developing the scavenger hunt, I was tasked with communicating with a large company to see if we could use their services during our event. It was cool when reaching out to them to think “Woah! This is what adults do! This is part of the real world.” It was two weeks of sending emails back and forth to get nowhere. We thought we had a time to meet, but then something came up and we had to start all over again. Then once we did meet, we were given a price that we then had to go back to see if it was possible. In looking over the budget for the event, we decided it wasn’t possible and that we had to go with an alternate method that was within our budget.
Derby: Hayden, what stuck out to you as you were up at the podium handing out the 2022 4-H Legislative Champion Award to Representative Chuck Clemons?
Hayden: We know that Representative Clemons is a big supporter of the 4-H program in Tallahassee. As I was presenting him the award and taking a picture with him, I realized that “I’m up here as the face of Florida 4-H. I’m here literally representing our hundreds of thousands of 4-H members across the state.” I wasn’t up there representing myself or just the State Council. I was up there representing all the unique experiences that all our membership encompasses.
Derby: What impact has Day at the Capitol had on your future?
Hayden: I have a one-liner that sums it up perfectly. “No goal is too big. No person is too small.” As that younger 4-H’er coming to Day at the Capitol for the first time, I never knew that I could be the State President that’s up there addressing hundreds and hundreds of people. I was inspired to think about “What can I do to make myself a better leader? A better 4-H’er? To push forward to do better for our program and our community.”
Carolyn: That’s going to be hard to top. We can just cut it there. Honestly, I completely agree with Hayden. If I can speak in front of more than 900 people at a big event that impacts people across Florida, than I can continue to do anything that I set my mind to.
CELEBRATING THE 50th SESSION OF FLORIDA 4-H LEGISLATURE
At the end of the day, Carolyn closed out the event by speaking with the 4-Hers about how they could continue to engage with their government beyond their legislators in Tallahassee. She spoke about making plans to meet with members of their local government, tour local buildings, and talk with them about how 4-H is growing leaders in our communities.
She then invited 4-H members aged 13-18 as of September 1, 2021, to attend Florida 4-H Legislature from June 20-24, 2022. This premier event allows participants to experience the legislative process firsthand by taking on roles as legislators, lobbyists, and media correspondents. They sit in the Florida Senate and House chambers to debate and consider passing or vetoing bills that they have researched and developed. They learn, practice, and defend the theory and process of representing citizens and making public policy.
Florida 4-H Legislature will be special this year as it marks its 50th Session. 4-H alumni and friends are invited to celebrate this landmark accomplishment. You will have the opportunity to attend the closing banquet on Thursday June 24th and see if you still have what it takes to make it in chambers during a mock session on Friday June 25th. For more information on Florida 4-H Legislature and the 50th Session celebration, contact Kelsey Cook at email@example.com.
For more information on the Florida 4-H Day at the Capitol program, please contact Derby Sale at firstname.lastname@example.org.