By Cindy Brookshire
It’s hard to imagine room-commanding teens such as Kipp Dunn and Ryan Thies, both 17, as shy young “Cloverbuds” embarking on their first projects in 4-H, a national youth organization that helps young people across America learn leadership, citizenship and life skills.
Dunn and Thies pack extensive portfolios that have propelled the young men to induction as “4-H All Stars,” the highest recognition that a Virginia 4-H member can achieve. Each has logged years of hands-on experiences and miles of interstate travel in activities that include theater arts, Junior Olympic Air Rifle competitions, camp counseling, robotics and GIS mapping.
The two, along with local Compass 4-H Club member Nicolas Poole of Bristow, recently represented Prince William 4-H at the National 4-H Congress in Atlanta, joining teens from every state and four U.S. territories in leadership workshops and networking.
“We met with Miss America,” said Dunn of 2014 title holder Nina Davuluri. “She’s an amazing talent and speaker. It was an incredible experience.”
Dunn, a homeschooled high school student who lives in Woodbridge, is taking computer science courses at Northern Virginia Community College for a degree that he plans to complete at Virginia Tech. He is a leader in the Compass 4-H Club, which meets in Dale City and sometimes at the Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.
Thies, among leaders in the SALT (Serving and Learning Together) 4-H Club in Manassas, where he lives, is exploring a future in the ministry. “Being able to stand up and voice my opinion without being uncomfortable will be a great ability to have as a pastor,” he said. “I owe 4-H for that foundation in public speaking.”
Role Models for Healthy Youth
Home to 23 4-H community clubs, five 4-H project clubs and one 4-H military club, Prince William has the largest enrollment in 4-H youth education and activities in Virginia, due largely to in-school programming provided by club volunteers. With a mission of “engaging youth to reach their fullest potential,” 4-H and related programs in more than 80 countries around the world strive “to make the best better,” the 4-H motto, and to “learn by doing,” the 4-H slogan.
Programs include the 4-H “Get Fit, That’s It,” which promotes healthy living with its message to school children to practice “9-5-2-1-0” daily: Get nine hours of sleep, eat five fruits and vegetables, engage in no more than two hours of recreational screen time, get at least one hour of physical activity and consume zero sugary drinks.
Local 4-H volunteers bring “Get Fit, That’s It” into area schools. They also provide fourth-graders in Prince William County’s 62 elementary schools with “Safe at Home, Safe Alone” training on fire safety, dealing with emergencies, stranger awareness, making nutritional snacks, Internet safety and more.
The training is especially beneficial for youth in Prince William. “We know [area] families have the sixth longest commute in the nation,” said Virginia Cooperative Extension Agent Linda King, in charge of deploying 4-H training in Prince William, which has the second largest youth population in Virginia.
King and her staff of three part-timers, along with an army of volunteers, manage this outreach so efficiently that they recently caught the eye of the National 4-H Council’s new CEO, Jennifer Sirangelo. In her first 100 days as CEO, Sirangelo brought her executive team to observe Prince William’s Nokesville 4-H Club in action this past January.
A joint study by Virginia Tech and Virginia State, both land-grant universities that sponsor 4-H, show that youth involved in 4-H are twice as likely to participate in science, engineering and computer technology programs, especially girls. Ask Gavin Saul.
Since the 12-year-old has become involved in amateur or “ham” radio, his 6-year-old sister, Katie, has been bouncing a ball to learn Morse code and wants to work on his circuit boards, said their mother Kristin Saul.
She recalled the day “ham happened.” The Manassas family was working on a 4-H embryology project at the Prince William County Fair two years ago. King had arranged for members of the Ole Virginia Hams and Woodbridge Wireless, two local amateur radio clubs, to set up a “N4H” station there to engage youth. Leading the project was 69-year-old Terry McCarty, a lifelong 4-H volunteer who exemplifies the hands-on mentoring encouraged in 4-H. Gavin was intrigued.
“[Gavin] spent the first day helping with the chickens and the next nine at the ham radio project,” said Kristin Saul. Sitting at the station, Gavin Saul sent out a “CQ”—radio frequency shorthand for “seek you”—and waited for a response. A voice answered him from another special event station: the Summer Olympics in London.
Gavin Saul has since earned his VHF/UHF amateur radio license, his mother said. He leads “Ham Radio Project Help” in the Nokesville 4-H Club and has volunteered for the Amateur Radio Emergency Service at the Marine Corps Marathon.
King and McCarty are working with the American Radio Relay League to create a ham radio 4-H project curriculum for local clubs and others. When the Ole Virginia Hams host the Manassas Hamfest on June 8 at the Prince William County Fairgrounds, the club plans to include a “N4H Youth Lounge” with activities that include scavenger hunts, “Morse code fun” and a QSL card (operators’ calling cards) designing contest.
Giving Back Year Round
The 4-H story unfolds every day throughout Prince William. An active partnership between Prince William 4-H, George Mason University, Minnieland Academy and Lockheed Martin offers affordable science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs to youth in the community, reaching underserved populations. At the county fair each summer, nearly 100 youth serve as counselors for nearly 370 4-H Junior Camp and Prince William 4-H Fair Camp campers.
Other service projects include planting tree seedlings, making meals for homeless shelters and cards and care packages for military troops and placing wreaths on graves at Quantico and Arlington national cemeteries on the National Day of Remembrance. Busloads of youth also visit the Virginia General Assembly on State Capitol Day.
“We’re trying to grow young people who are good citizens with great leadership skills that are productive in life and can be agents of change,” said King. “Through these projects they gain life skills, a sense of independence and confidence and learn they can be of service and give back to the community in all kinds of ways.”
For Dunn, it’s about friendship, too. “What I really look forward to in 4-H is enjoying life and learning from some of the best people I know,” he said. “Hey, I get to hang out with Ryan.”
For more information on Prince William 4-H, call 703-792-4761 or visit www.pwcgov.org/4h.
Manassas resident Cindy Brookshire is a frequent contributor to Prince William Living. She can be reached at [email protected]