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4-H volunteers lauded at annual forum

Delaware 4-H Salute to Excellence winners
Delaware 4-H Salute to Excellence winners 2013 From L to R: Ann Blackmore (NCC), Heather Whitten (Monsanto), Debbie Vanderwende (Sussex), Mark Manno (UD Delaware 4-H), Heather Smith (Sussex), Connie Louder (Kent), Jennifer Sirangelo (National 4-H), Barbara Horsey (DSU), Michelle Rodgers (UD Cooperative Extension).

If it takes a village to care for children, Delaware’s owes a great deal to 4-H Clover Power in their communities. Representatives from 4-H National Council, Monsanto Company, the State of Delaware and Delaware Cooperative Extension all took advantage of 4-H’s Delaware State Leader Forum to shine the spotlight on the adult 4-H volunteers, known as “leaders.” All of the guest speaker echoed a familiar theme – the lasting impact of 4-H volunteerism on Delaware children through what is state’s largest youth development program.

Delaware’s Auditor, Tom Wagner provided the morning greeting to more than 100 leaders and staff from across the state who gathered in Georgetown for the training. Wagner marveled at the unique and prolific American culture of volunteerism that is expressed through 4-H. “You all woke up early, gave up your Saturdays to travel here, just so you can be better volunteers,” Wagner said. “That is amazing.”

After the morning orientation, Ernie Lopez, extension specialist for University of Delaware Cooperative Extension sent the leaders on their way to their first of three workshops. Leaders chose from an array of topics – an opportunity to learn something new or reinforce an already familiar 4-H project curriculum. Through workshops, leaders receive hands-on trainings and enhance their ability to be effective stewards of Delaware youth with expanding skillsets. Some of the choices included cyber bullying, a science-based butterfly project, equine and livestock resources, fun textile activities and crafts, conducting business within the 4-H club, building community service into 4-H programing, videography, first aid and CPR, a review of state fair exhibits and record books, bicycling and building assets. Each year, the workshop offerings change, keeping the forums fresh as they draw from more than 130 4-H project areas.

In between sessions, lunchtime offered a chance to hear the stories of 4-H leadership.

“The lives you touch are the lives you change,” said Jennifer Sirangelo, executive vice president of National 4-H Council, located in Chevy Chase, Md. “The trajectory you are putting us on is a positive trajectory.” Sirangleo said that the 4-H youth program is the largest in the world, covering all 50 states and 70 countries. Nationally, 6 million youth are impacted by 4-H youth programming. She told Delaware 4-H Leaders, “There isn’t a more important job than what you do.”

In Delaware, more than 60,000 youth are impacted by 4-H programs and curriculum delivered through traditional clubs, afterschool programs, day and overnight camping and other events. Michelle Rodgers, associate dean at UD’s College of Agriculture & Natural Resources and director of Cooperative Extension addressed the group. Growing up on her family’s dairy farm in Pa., Rodgers was an active 4-H’er and continued in collegiate 4-H while obtaining her undergraduate degree. Rodgers said the success of the program in Delaware could not be realized without the contribution of the 4-H volunteer. “Today I’ve listened to some of your own personal 4-H stories and how they impacted you – the skillsets you learned from 4-H and will use for the rest of your lives,” Rodgers said. “We are so proud to be a part of what you do.”

Leaders also enjoyed an opportunity to hear directly from the youth they have mentored. Ashley Gouge, Trevor Maloney and Ben Shaffer thanked leaders by sharing their experiences as 2012 delegates to 4-H National Conference, an experience where teens refine leadership skills and meet and discuss issues with other 4-H youth from around the country. At National 4-H Conference, 4-H youth meet policy makers in Washington, D.C., and the delegates were encouraged that 4-H voices are being heard in the government and emphasized the personal enrichment that the 4-H Conference provided.

Heather Whitten represented Monsanto, lead sponsor of the Salute to Excellence Award, which recognizes outstanding volunteer service. Two individuals from each county are recognized in the following categories: Volunteer of the Year, for service 10 years and under, and the Lifetime Volunteer Award for more than 10 years of service. This year’s list of winners included:
• New Castle: Volunteer of the Year : Robert Johnston, Lifetime Volunteer: Ann Blackmore
• Kent County: Volunteer of the Year: Lynn Wilkins, Lifetime Volunteer: Connie Louder
• Sussex County: Volunteer of the Year: Heather Smith, Lifetime Volunteer: Debbie Vanderwende
• Delaware State University: Volunteer of the Year: Barbara Horsey and Bradley Kearse

From these outstanding county winners, Delaware 4-H announced that Heather Smith and Connie Louder will represent Delaware for consideration as a regional and national 4-H Salute to Excellence awards.

To become a Delaware 4-H leader, adults go through an extensive application process which includes a criminal background check. In addition to training opportunities at the annual forum, 4-H volunteers receive curriculum training and support at the county level, and many participate in regional and national 4-H leader forums and 4-H sponsored events.

“What a joy it was see members of our Delaware 4-H family learning and sharing together in fellowship,” said Ernie Lopez, who also serves as volunteer coordinator and organizes the event each year.

“We are so blessed to have such caring and capable leaders throughout the Delaware 4-H program.  The annual leader forum is always a meaningful day that brings the best and the brightest together to be reinvigorated and learn from one another,” Lopez said.   “I thank all of our terrific leaders for the great work they do with our 4-H youth day in a day out!”

For more information on Delaware’s 4-H programs visit the Delaware 4-H websiteView photos of the event here.

Submitted by Michele Walfred, communications specialist, Carvel Research and Education Center