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Imagine a weekend with close to 80 teenagers, all willing to get up early to walk, run or jog along a cold, coastal boardwalk, eat healthy foods, read nutrition labels, try new exercises, do a fair bit of listening to adults and other peers – meet new friends without awkwardness, and step up to the challenge to help solve health issues – and do it all without any grumbling!
Well, that is exactly what happened! On January 17-19, Delaware 4-H invited the regional 4-H community to “ride the wave to healthy living” and participate in Delaware’s first 4-H Youth-Adult Partnership Conference or YAP. In total, more than 125 4-H youth, parent leaders and UD staff eagerly devoted their bodies, minds and spirit toward learning more about nutrition, fitness and healthy living for themselves, their clubs and their communities. The weekend event was held at the Atlantic Sands Hotel & Conference Center in Rehoboth Beach.
For those involved with the 4-H Youth Development, the largest youth program in the country, it comes as no surprise, for 4-H members and leaders are only practicing what they preach. The 4-H pledge, recited at every meeting and event, calls upon members to devote their heads, hearts, hands and health toward better living, clearing thinking and making a difference in their lives and those of their community.
Twenty five 4-H youth and adult volunteers served as the planning committee who met regularly over the past year to develop a program with engaging workshops, two motivational speakers and group activities designed to advance awareness and offer tools toward healthy living goals.
“I can’t say enough about how the teens and adult volunteers embraced the idea and dove into the planning process,” said Mark Manno, Delaware 4-H program leader. “They did everything and the success of the conference is all theirs.”
Manno said the idea of holding a regional youth-adult conference was first discussed in 2010, when Delaware hosted Northeast adult leaders from 13 neighboring states. 4-H delegations from Massachusetts, West Virgina and Maryland attended this year’s YAP conference.
The energy was palpable as teams of youth and adults moved from room to room having selected their choices from the 15 workshops, which covered topics across three broad areas: Nutrition and Fitness, Mental and Emotional Wellness, and Personal and Community Development. Yoga, cardio-movement, peer-pressure, developing a positive self-image, Internet safety, distracted driving, dealing with stress and conflict, bullying, personal responsibility, identifying healthy refreshments and making wise consumer choices were a few of the specific activities offered. Eleven staff members from UD’s College of Agriculture & Natural Resources, as well as three Delaware 4-H alumni served as presenters.
Michelle Rodgers, associate dean and director of the University of Delaware Cooperative Extension was impressed by her visit of Saturday’s full agenda. “This youth-adult partnership was packed full of educational content on the health mission mandate,” Rodgers said. “It was a valuable hands-on learning environment.” Rodgers, a Pennsylvania 4-H alumna expressed her gratitude during the Saturday’s luncheon.
“I am delighted to see all the great things you are doing. 4-H has been part of my life. I know what you are doing today and in your club and in your community will really have an impact on your entire life. I want to congratulate you for choosing to use your time in a such valuable way, learning way and appreciate the way you give back to others, ” Rodgers said.
Between sessions, youth and adults, worked in small teams and tasked themselves to identify an issue or need in their school or larger community. Then they developed a strategic plan of action and ways to measure or assess progress. Each team reported their findings to the assembly on Sunday. Some of the issues the 4-H youth identified, and plan to address locally include school bullying, driving while texting, obesity, sexual health and responsibility, drugs and alcohol abuse prevention.
Keylani Warfield, seventh grader at Kirk Middle School, where she attends a 4-H Afterschool program, learned a lot from the weekend experience. “I am committed to try new fruits and vegetables before deciding if I like them and also plan to find new ways to incorporate them in my meals.”
Morgan Absher, a student at Phyllis Wheatley Middle School and not currently enrolled in 4-H, was invited to attend the event by her teacher, Krista Scott, a 4-H alumna from Sussex County. “I really want to join 4-H now!” Absher exclaimed.
Two featured speakers were well received. Shannon Oleen, a Missouri 4-H alumna and former NFL cheerleader for the Kansas City Chiefs, was the keynote speaker who reinforced the importance of a lifelong commitment to fitness and how the right attitude can help a person achieve personal goals. Oleen got everyone up out of their seats during her talk. Oleen also conducted a workshop on fitness in the workplace.
Dr. Robert Gillio, MD, executive director and co-founder for the Force for Health Foundation, gave Sunday’s capstone speech and related his his experiences with disaster relief, including Sept. 11, Hurricane Katrina and the Boston Marathon bombings. Gillio also demonstrated his current focus on technology and apps that empower youth to be agents of change. Gillio said that youth are particularly well-suited for the call to volunteer action and making a tangible differences.”Youth can turn around an entire community’s spirit,” Gillio said. Finding 4-H to be the best organized adults and youth volunteers in the country,Gillio invited 4-H’ers to join him as a force for better health. But Gillio reminded his audience, “If you don’t take care of yourself, you can’t take care of others.”
Technology also played a role at the event as attendees used i>clickers to gauge attitudes about various health topics such as exercise, nutrition and relationships with others. Sundays closing survey demonstrated a measurable shift in favor of new awareness. At Saturday evening’s 4-H dance, Instagram and Twitter posts with the hashtag #DE4HYAP were collected using a social media aggregate platform and projected on the screen to the delight of dancers and chaperones.
Jill Jackson, 4-H youth educator served as staff co-chair along with 4-H educator Mallory Vogl, knew the 4-H staff and planning committee had hit a home run with the event. “I believe a lot of the excitement and camaraderie stemmed from our first roundtable session on Friday night” Jackson said. “The activities and conversations helped the youth and adults feel more comfortable with each other and they recognized that when youth and adults work together, using everyone’s talents, they can make a positive change.”
“I can’t believe that the fun-filled weekend down at the beach is over. I had such a great time and learned so much #DE4hyap” tweeted Matthew Ernst, New Castle County 4-H’er.
Click here to view more photographs of the Delaware 4-H Youth-Adult Partnership
Story and photos by Michele Walfred