4-Hers represent Michigan at 2015 National 4-H Congress

National 4-H Congress builds confidence, communication and life skills for 4-H youth.

The Michigan 4-H Congress delegation poses at the National 4-H Congress Gala.

The Michigan 4-H Congress delegation poses at the National 4-H Congress Gala.

On the day after Thanksgiving, Nov. 27, 2015, nine Michigan youth got up early not to go shopping, but to build their leadership skills and personal networks by traveling to Atlanta, Georgia, to attend the National 4-H Congress. National 4-H Congress is a 4-H leadership event that brings over 900 youth together from across 45 U.S. states and territories. Michigan 4-H was well-represented by youth hailing from Branch, Monroe, Gratiot, Hillsdale, Ingham and Lapeer counties.

During the event, youth listened to inspiring keynote speakers including Dan Clark, the editor of the “Chicken Soup for the Soul” books. Clark reminded youth to think about the people they spend time with, saying, “We become the average of the five people we hang out with the most.” He also encouraged youth to be resilient in life, stating, “You can’t always control what happens, but you can always control what happens next.”

Miss Delaware 2010, Kayla Martell, spoke to the youth about persevering through challenges as she shared her story about competing in pageants with alopecia. Teenagers, particularly aware of appearance and working to develop their sense of self, resonated with this topic.

All of the delegates worked in partnership with 16 organizations in the Atlanta area to complete community service projects one morning of the event. Michigan delegates assisted with a park clean up and visited elementary schools to teach a lesson about agriculture and assist with other classroom needs. Youth attended workshops that built skills and align with the National 4-H mission mandates of citizenship, healthy living and science, ranging from topics including ballroom dancing, healthy cooking and leadership skills.

Michigan delegates

The Michigan 4-H Congress delegation poses at an Atlanta park.

Outside of formal sessions and activities, youth grew as young adults as they navigated public transportation, practiced reading maps and explored a new city’s local landmarks and cultural attractions. A previous Michigan State University Extension article, “Life’s a journey: Tips to empower youth when traveling,” describes how to capitalize on learning opportunities in these non-formal learning settings.

In a reflection activity following the event, youth wrote about the importance of embracing the things that make them unique, building their self-confidence and realizing they have special gifts to offer the world. One of the participants wrote, “The very most important thing I gained from National 4-H Congress is to be confident in myself.”

When youth interacted with youth from across the United States, they found they had more in common with others than they may have first expected. Analyse Auxter from Monroe, Michigan, said, “I had the opportunity to meet people from all over the country and we discussed everything from foods to accents.” The program helped youth to appreciate diversity while making friends who are different from them.

Youth gained an appreciation for new experiences, as one wrote, “Always try new foods. Grits with cheese are really good.” Finally, the youth left the program feeling inspired and feeling confident in their ability to impact the future, as one wrote, “We are the future, so make sure it will be a good one.”

National 4-H Congress annually brings together top 4-H youth leaders from across the country. The 2016 National 4-H Congress will be held Nov. 27- Dec. 1. Contact your local MSU Extension office for more information on how to reserve a spot; many counties provide scholarships for 4-H members to attend. 

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