Florida 4-H club lends helping hand to youth affected by California wildfires, floods

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — As historic wildfires and floods devastated parts of Southern California late last year, youth 3,000 miles away in Marion County, Florida, were thinking about how they could help those affected.

Ultimately, the members of the 4-H Horse Specialty Club decided to donate $900 to 4-H families who were struggling after these back-to-back disasters.

In 2016, the club also sent aid to those affected by the Tennessee fires. This time they wanted to extend their support to another community in need, said adult volunteer Kevin Yutani, who has led the club for the last 14 years.

This decision came from the youth themselves, Yutani said.

“The Horse Specialty Club is a very youth-driven club. They get guidance from the adults, but the adults don’t make the decisions for them,” Yutani said.

Giving this group of about 30 adolescents the reins allows them to practice making good decisions, communicating their ideas and supporting fellow 4-H youth, he said.

Community service and leadership are two main pillars of 4-H, which seeks to help youth grow into adults equipped for success. The 4-H Horse Specialty Club is part of Florida 4-H, the youth development program of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

On receiving the Florida club’s donation, 4-H agents in California distributed the funds to six 4-H families connected to the Playa del Sur 4-H Club based in Santa Barbara County, said Janelle Hansen, county 4-H agent with the University of California Cooperative Extension.

Playa del Sur club members come mainly from low-income families, she said. While their homes were not affected by the fires and floods, their parents lost opportunities to work due to these disasters.

Club members also had to deal with threats to one of their big investments: their project animals.

“Club members keep their animals — steers, heifers, sheep — at a local property, and they had to evacuate their animals, and lost all their equipment and supplies,” Hansen said. Fortunately, members in the local community, 4-H and Future Farmers of America have helped with the displaced animals and replacing lost equipment.

This spirit of support and generosity is just part of the 4-H way, whether you’re in California, Florida or anywhere in between.

“Every little bit for these families helps. For the youth, knowing that there are people who care helps a lot, too,” Hansen 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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