Virginia 4-H asking the communities it helped build to give back
The COVID-19 pandemic has greatly impacted the finances of local 4-H Educational Centers and Virginia 4-H is asking the public for help in order to serve the next generation of leaders.
Every week, Sierra Conroy spends countless hours teaching children academics as well as valuable life skills in her Floyd County fifth-grade classroom. She instills independence, resiliency, kindness, a sense of community, and teamwork as a portion of her students’ education.
Conroy believes this wouldn’t be possible without her experiences in her local 4-H club and her summers at the 4-H educational centers.
“4-H camp was a large part of my childhood, teenage, and young adult years. It gave me some of the most fundamental skills that have supported my teaching career,” Conroy said. “The camp experience is incredible at building positive traits for anyone. 4-H camp has a way of teaching them in a fun, hands-on manner.”
All around the commonwealth, there are stories just like Conroy’s of people who built on the foundations that 4-H created as they went into careers in STEM, public service, education, and other community-building jobs.
Afterall, 4-H was founded on the belief that when kids are empowered to pursue their passions and chart their own courses, their skills grow and take shape, which helps them become true leaders in their lives, careers, and communities.
Now, Virginia 4-H needs the of help from the communities it helped build. It needs investments to ensure it preserves this life-changing experience now and for future generations.
“The best gift we can give our kids is to provide skills that last a lifetime. This is the reason why parents have been sending their kids to 4-H summer camps for decades,” said John Dooley, CEO of the Virginia Tech Foundation and former 4-H educational center director. “4-H shaped me and set me on the path to my career. We need to ensure that these vital, life-changing experiences exist in the future.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has been an extraordinarily difficult time for everyone, and that reality is also true for 4-H educational centers. Providing in-person 4-H educational experiences to serve youth was not possible this year, which has had both short- and long-term negative financial impacts on the six camping centers located throughout the commonwealth.
4-H continued the camp experience virtually to maintain that important role, but camp is not the centers’ only source of revenue. In addition to 4-H camping, all of the educational centers rely on renting their center spaces to community groups and partners. Cancellations due to the COVID-19 pandemic have eliminated this vital source of revenue. This income is critical for sustaining year-round operations and for maintaining an affordable camping experience.
As Virginia’s largest youth development organization, the commonwealth has greatly benefited from 4-H programs and educational centers. 4-H helps Virginia's underserved communities, and it subsidizes the camping experience to make it affordable for all families.
“It’s about not just reaching our current youth, but making a commitment to provide educational resources, social-emotional support, and a sense of belonging for youth across urban, suburban, and rural communities to create an opportunity for all,” said Jeremy Johnson, state 4-H leader. “We take immense pride in serving our communities and in our important role in serving the lives of the youth.”
While COVID-19 changed how 4-H delivered rich learning experiences, young people are still learning by doing through a variety of activities that emphasize 4-H’s philosophy of youth development. Camps were held digitally, education programs are being delivered remotely, and at-home learning activities are taking place across the state. These experiences were held digitally at no cost and each of the six 4-H educational centers hosted a series of virtual day camps that embody 4-H’s positive development programs.
Sierra Conroy was one of those youths whose lives changed because of 4-H.
“There aren't many affordable weekly camps around anymore. Other camps don't always have a positive environment for kids who are different or who might not feel comfortable,” Conroy said. “4-H camp is the most inclusive and structured camp that comes to my mind and the potential for this to slip away is heartbreaking.”
Virginia 4-H is asking the communities it helped to give back. To invest in positive youth development and to help change lives, text VA4H to 51555 or visit bit.ly/vceemergency to make a donation. For more information on 4-H, visit https://www.cals.vt.edu/make-a-gift.html.