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I had the opportunity to work as an Election Judge and while it was a very long tiring day, it also gave me an opportunity to reflect the importance and many ways 4-H helps builds future civic leaders. Learning about citizenship, elections and government begins at the club level with children as young as five years of age. Every 4-H meeting opens with the American and 4-H pledge. Officers lead the pledges and flag sets are provided to each chartered 4-H Club in Catawba County.
4-H clubs have elected youth officers who lead the business meeting at clubs and work in partnership with adult volunteers to provide leadership for the club. There are also county, district and state 4-H officers. The election procedure for district and state officers allows youth candidates to get first-hand experience with campaigning, creating an personal campaign platform, giving speeches, and dealing with victory and defeat. Each county has a determined number of electoral votes and teens attending NC 4-H Congress have the task for casting those votes to elect state 4-H officers each July. The number of electoral votes is based the number of 4-H members and other youth involved in different programs offered in each county through 4-H. As the counties cast votes, the tally is shown on a screen with the winner declared when a candidate reaches 51% of the possible votes. It is much like the real election night results and this campaign is very real to NC 4-H’ers involved in the process. The club officer roles provide the foundation that can lead to teens serving as state 4-H officers or even NC local or state government elected roles as adults.
The teen years bring expanded leadership and citizenship opportunities coupled with traveling. NC 4-H Citizenship Focus is held in Raleigh in June and allows teens to learn about state government and interact with state elected leaders. During the conference selected teens from each county participate in workshops on leadership and citizenship topics that prepare them for a visit to the Legislative office buildings where they meet and talk with the state representatives and senators from their area. Similarly, National 4-H Conference in Washington, DC brings together 4-H teens from across the nation to learn about national government, as they strengthen their leadership skills. The highlight of National Conference is a visit to Capitol Hill where teens meet and interact with national governmental leaders. NC 4-H teens are selected to attend National Conference through a competitive application and interview process, with less than ten high school students earning this expense-paid trip each year. Kat Stuplin, a Catawba County 4-H’er, will be attending National 4-H Conference in April 2017.
Citizenship has been an integral part of 4-H for more than 100 years. Through an array of different opportunities for children of all ages, 4-H is to creating the next generation of citizen and government leaders. To learn more about 4-H or get information about starting or joining a club, contact Cooperative Extension at 828-465-8240 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Picture – Teens met with Representative Mitchell Setzer and other elected leaders at their offices in Raleigh as part of NC 4-H Citizenship Focus. Pictured (left to right): Evan Harris, Representative Setzer, Kat Stulpin, and Josh Wilson.