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4-H Congress marks 78 years of programs
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Youth from 77 Mississippi counties came to Mississippi State University the first week of June to continue a 78-year-old tradition of competition, socialization and service.
4-H Congress was held June 4 through 6 in Starkville. Susan Holder, state 4-H program director with MSU's Extension Service, said 456 4-Hers ages 14 to 18 attended Congress, with the support and assistance from 89 volunteers and 85 4-H staff from across the state.
"4-H Congress has a three-fold purpose," Holder said. "It offers the young people an opportunity to compete in project work they qualified for at the county level. It is a political process with the election of officers to allow the organization to operate, and there are interviews for the Awareness Team and National Conference delegates."
Youth qualify to attend Congress by completing a year of project work and winning county-level competition. At the state level, winners in 57 competitions are awarded cash prizes, and some earn the right to represent Mississippi in national competition. All winners and Awareness Team members also receive a trip to the Cooperative Leadership Conference.
Elections are held to choose a president, vice president, secretary/treasurer, reporter, parliamentarian, song leader and four district vice presidents to run the state 4-H council.
Also at Congress, interested youth can interview for the Awareness Team, whose members promote and publicize 4-H for one year. They also can interview to become one of six delegates to the National Conference in Washington, D.C.
"The National Conference was started in 1927 by the Secretary of Agriculture to call in the youth of the nation to advise him on issues that were affecting the country," Holder said. "The early Mississippi delegates advised on the flooding caused by the Mississippi River."
While the business part of Congress is the primary activity, there is a social aspect.
"This year we're celebrating 100 years of 4-H, and there is a lot of excitement and special activities for the 4-H Centennial," Holder said.
Each year, the youth at state 4-H Congress conduct a community service project. This year, it was Operation Cuddle. Each of the 4-Hers was asked to bring a teddy bears to donate to children's hospitals and law enforcement agencies to help comfort children who are in stressful situations.
"Through 4-H, we want to make sure there are opportunities for all the youth in Mississippi," Holder said. "Whether they started at age 15 or are involved in pre-4-H at age 5, we want them to be part of the 4-H program with us. There's a program or project that can interest nearly every child and afford them opportunities to grow and become better people."