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4-H Congress helps youth do great things
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Mississippi State University was a little greener the last week in May as more than 750 4-H youth and adult volunteers converged for the 2006 State 4-H Congress.
Their theme of “Green people doing great things” played off the color they wore so prevalently and the community service projects they do throughout the year and while on campus. They represented the nearly 90,000 4-H members in Mississippi.
“Congress is the annual get-together for 4-H youth ages 14 to 18,” said Rae Wilkinson, a 4-H specialist with the MSU Extension Service. “It is equal parts contests, workshops and socializing, and it's a lot of fun.”
Congress gives those who like to compete a chance to test their mastery and knowledge of subject areas, and offer numerous leadership and public speaking opportunities. Many young people start their political careers at Congress running for office within the youth organization.
“These are all skills they'll use the rest of their lives in their churches, jobs, communities and families,” Wilkinson said.
Kim Watson, 18, is from Raymond and is this year's state 4-H Council president. She joined 4-H as a 6-year-old Cloverbud, and has been active in the organization since she turned 8.
“As president, I will get to be involved in the promotion of 4-H, so that other youth can have the same opportunities I had. I've been blessed to travel and do a lot of things through 4-H,” Watson said. “Many youth think of 4-H and they think of livestock, but there is so much more than that.”
Arcenio Cooke, 19, finished his freshman year at the University of Southern Mississippi. While he was too old to compete in the 4-H contests, he came back to Congress this year to complete his duties as state vice president on the 4-H Council.
“I enjoy being in a leadership position,” Cooke said. “I like the travel I got to do with 4-H, I like meeting new people and I was able to get several scholarships because of my 4-H involvement.”
Susan Holder, Extension state leader of 4-H, said four essential elements of 4-H are belonging, generosity, mastery and independence.
“Each of these is present in the 4-H program and gives young people life skills they will always have,” Holder said. “Being part of a group or 4-H club gives young people a sense of belonging, and community service projects allow them to express their generosity. Competitions allow young people to master a subject they knew nothing about, and independence can be shown through expressive arts.”
Expressive arts had a big place in this year's Congress with ballroom and Latin dance demonstrations and workshops, and a performance by the Congressional Awards Program winners of their play promoting literacy.
While at Club Congress, 4-H youth helped assemble Hero Packs to be distributed to children of U.S. soldiers deployed in war zones. They also assembled Back to the Beach bags full of beach items to be donated to young people living along the Mississippi Gulf Coast who are still struggling to recover from Hurricane Katrina.
The number of youth from Mississippi's coastal counties participating in 4-H Congress was down this year because of Katrina, but about 25 who made the trip did so courtesy of the Federal Land Banks of Mississippi. Holder said this organization paid the travel expenses and registration for 4-H members from Hancock, Harrison and Jackson counties.
As the MSU Extension Service's youth development program, many school-age children enjoy projects in clothing, photography, computer skills, health, livestock, engineering, wildlife, automotive driving and tractor operation.