For 17-year-old Winter Merilan, meeting with her state legislator this week meant a chance to not only learn about the legislative process, but it was also a chance to help her legislator see that the Florida 4-H program had changed the life of one of his constituents.
She said after her father died, Winter was able to lean on her 4-H Extension agent as a caring, supportive adult during a period when her life was unstable and terrifying.
“Florida 4-H has really changed the lives of everyone around us,” said Winter, who attends a Florida 4-H program in Leon County out of the Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (FAMU). “I feel at home, and I feel like I have family no matter where I am.”
About 1,000 Florida 4-H youth met with state legislators on Tuesday to tell their success stories from their 4-H experience and to ask the legislature to revitalize their beloved 4-H camp, Camp Cherry Lake.
Florida 4-H Day at the Capitol is one of the largest Capitol connection days and the largest 4-H day in the nation. The event gives youth hands-on experience with the legislative process.
They advocated for their peers to have access to opportunities with 4-H, including hands-on outdoor science learning at 4-H camps, via continued legislative support. They also encouraged legislators to champion a $3.5 million campaign to restore Florida 4-H Camp Cherry Lake, an iconic 4-H camp which currently has limited cabin space for overnight camping. Youth also heard from National 4-H Council CEO Jill Bramble.
4-H is the youth development program of the land-grant university and Cooperative Extension system serving youth ages 5 to 18 with hands-on learning to build life skills to be responsible, contributing citizens. In Florida, 4-H is administrated by the University of Florida (UF/IFAS) and FAMU.
Morgan Newman, 17, of the FAMU 4-H club, said the Florida 4-H Day at the Capitol was exciting because she was able to tell her legislator how she’s gained leadership skills, learned about agricultural job opportunities and expanded her horizons through 4-H – and specifically through camp. She and others met with Florida Agriculture Commissioner Wilton Simpson.
“I liked being able to voice our opinions to the commissioner so we can continue our program for our kids,” she said. “I would hope he understands how important 4-H is for kids everywhere. We need more kids in 4-H and agriculture.”
Taylor Thigpen, 18-year-old Florida 4-H state council president, said he was thrilled to be able to tell the commissioner and state legislators about how 4-H made it possible for him to start his own business and two non-profits. He grew his home plant business from $5 to one that sells plants in five retail locations over the course of a few years, in large part to a grant he received through a Florida 4-H contest.
“I hope the legislators got to hear each student’s unique story to hear that Florida 4-H is alive and strong,” he said. “Florida 4-H has meant everything to me. Growing up with a single parent, there were many challenges, but 4-H has turned me into a passionate person who cares about the people around me.”
The mission of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) 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 brings science-based solutions to the state’s agricultural and natural resources industries, and all Florida residents.
ABOUT FLORIDA 4-H
4-H is the youth development program of the land-grant university system and Cooperative Extension System. The program provides hands-on educational programs and experiences for youth ages 5 to 18 with the objective of developing youth as individuals, and as responsible and productive citizens. In Florida, 4-H is administered by University of Florida/IFAS Extension and Florida A&M University.