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4-H Saves Lives: A Teen’s Trajectory to Thrive

Many people know 4-H as the nation’s largest youth development organization. They may also know that 4-H programs focus on life skill development through experiential learning in a safe affirming environment. However, something many may not know is that 4-H, in many cases, is a LIFESAVER! 4-H saves lives daily through positive youth development provided to youth throughout the nation ages 5-18. 4-H also influences the lives of volunteers ages 18 and beyond by providing the opportunity for them to make a difference in the world by shaping the future through our youth. How many people can actually say they had a hand in shaping the future of our nation?

Cheyenne joined 4-H during December 2014. She and her family had recently moved to the area and coincidentally her mother stumbled upon the Extension Office thinking it was a satellite location of the University of Florida that provided classes. Upon entering, she was directed to the new 4-H Agent, shared her story and passion for livestock, and was quickly recruited to be a part of the Walton County 4-H family. Soon Cheyenne began attending meetings in the Cherokee Riders Horse Club and later took leadership opportunities by becoming an officer. By the 2015 4-H year, Cheyenne was President of both the Cherokee Riders and Livestock Clubs, a member of Teen Council and volunteering whenever possible. It was clear she was on a trajectory to thrive and making great strides toward her future goals!

Sadly, in the Spring of 2015, Cheyenne soon found herself facing enormous obstacles in her life. Her father was deployed, her parents were divorcing, she was trying to escape an unhealthy relationship, and she was being bullied at school on top of facing the normal emotional struggles of being a teen. Cheyenne became depressed and withdrawn from most everyone. Her normal smile and cheerful manner had been suppressed. Her focus on clubs and school began to wither and feelings of doubt set in.  It became apparent that she was facing failure to thrive and was contemplating unhealthy decisions.

After sitting down with her concerned 4-H Agent and her mother, Cheyenne agreed that 4-H Camp Timpoochee would be an excellent way to recharge and focus on herself for the summer! Cheyenne was trained as a Counselor and became very excited about her camp week with Walton County 4-H. During camp she approached her 4-H Agent and said,

“I really love it here…this 4-H stuff really works!”

She also stated that she could be herself at camp, her true self and everyone accepted her for it and even liked her. She made new friends, smiled, laughed and began to find herself again, only an improved more confident version of the girl who started camp on Monday.

Several weeks after camp Cheyenne’s mother came in to drop her off to volunteer for a day camp. She came into the 4-H office with tears in her eyes and said,

“Thank you. I don’t know what you did but thank you for bringing my baby back!”

Now Cheyenne holds officer positions in multiple clubs, has won several Blue and Grand Champion Ribbons in the Fair, was a State Qualifier at the Area A Horse Show, and has competed on the County and District level in cooking competitions. In addition, in 2016 Cheyenne won the Club Masters award from Southern States through her diligence and excellent care of her Reserve Grand Champion Doe!

4-H professionals, volunteers and youth themselves have the ability to give life back to youth in need! For more than 100 years, 4-H has been committed to the idea that youth are the single strongest catalyst for change. Based on Florida 4-H Facts and Impact, 4-H reaches 23, 954 youth through 4-H Clubs, 6,973 through 4-H camps, 21,455 through special interest programs, 148,268 through school enrichment, and 2,597 through after school programs. 4-H youth, regardless of background, socio-economic status, race, or gender have significantly lower drug, alcohol, and cigarette use than peers and are 2.4 times more likely to make healthy choices.

If you know a youth struggling to find their way, or an adult seeking to make a difference, consider researching 4-H in your community. There are endless opportunities available through 4-H clubs, camps, workshops, contests, leadership events and much more. Contact your local Extension Office to see how 4-H is shaping the future of youth in your community, or browse the links below.  You can ignite a spark to improve “your club, your community, your country and your world!”

PG

Author: Jena Brooks – brooks15@ufl.edu

Jena Brooks

Permanent link to this article: http://bay.ifas.ufl.edu/newsletters/2017/01/26/4-h-saves-lives-a-teens-trajectory-to-thrive/