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4-H Youth Voice Heard on Capitol Hill

Jennifer Martin, CSREES Staff, (202) 720-8188
March 31, 2006

All across Capitol Hill, 4-H members put the power of their voice into action. More than 300 youth and adult delegates at the 2006 National 4-H Conference met with their congressional representatives and staffs to discuss 4-H programs in their states and how they have personally been impacted by their involvement in 4-H programs.

Capitol Hill Day kicked off with the USDA Assembly, where delegates were welcomed to Washington, DC, by USDA officials, including Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns, Deputy Under Secretary for Research, Education and Economics Merle Pierson, and CSREES Administrator Colien Hefferan. Cathann Kress, CSREES Director of National 4-H Headquarters, shared the delegates’ top recommendations about the future of 4-H youth development programming.

After the assembly, delegates were off to Capitol Hill to attend the second 4-H Congressional Caucus luncheon, where they were able to meet with House and Senate staff. Congressional caucuses are a type of congressional member organization developed to facilitate communication between members of Congress. Congressional 4-H caucuses were formed in the House of Representatives and the Senate in the fall of 2004 and spring of 2005, respectively. The primary purpose of these caucuses is to support the participants in the 4-H Youth Development Program by initiating enriched educational opportunities for increasing youth understanding of how the federal government works.

From there it was on to Capitol Hill, where they visited their local congressional offices and discussed state 4-H programs. These meetings allowed National 4-H Conference delegates to represent all 4-H youth in their states. The young leaders were enthusiastic to share their love for 4-H with their government officials.

Preparation for these visits began long before the delegates arrived in Washington. For months they worked to learn about their elected officials and prepare what topics they wanted to cover. Most states developed one-page fact sheets about their 4-H programs to leave at each visit.

Prior to Capitol Hill Day, Chad Wykle, a former 4-H member and aid to West Virginia Rep. Nick Rahall, gave delegates practical and useful tips on how to make their visit a success. He also empowered delegates by reminding them that members of Congress place a high value on meeting with youth leaders and that they should make it a habit to express their concerns and opinions with elected officials. He, along with Secretary Johanns, emphasized that Capitol Hill Day wasn’t a one-time opportunity that would be over once conference ended; their ability to share their voice with their elected officials should and can be ongoing.

Johanns addressed the need for more people in public service and encouraged delegates to consider investing their leadership skills in public service – be it as school board member, elected official or governmental official. Additionally, several speakers touched upon the fact that while not all 4-H youth are engaged in farming, as leaders they will be called upon to make decisions as future community leaders that will require them to understand agricultural issues, whether about production agriculture, water quality, conservation or other parts of the food and fiber industry.

The National 4-H Conference serves as an avenue to assist youth and adult leaders to develop recommendations to guide 4-H programs nationally and in their communities. Each year, delegates come to the conference prepared to work and be engaged in the future of 4-H programming. Capitol Hill Day serves as one venue for 4-H youth to ensure that opportunities for tomorrow’s youth will not only be available, but viable as well.