Teens kindle leadership and life skills at 4-H summit

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Melissa Osgood
Nigel Davidson
Michael Okoniewski
Nigel Davidson, of Rochester, pedals powerfully to run a smoothie blender, as Dan Wrenn, of Poestenkill, New York, and UnitedHealthcare's Dr. Health E. Hound look on.
Haley Carmon
Michael Okoniewski
Haley Carmon, of Maine, New York, examines the amount of sugar contained in a regular soft drink, at one of the CCE nutrition stations at the New York State Fairgrounds, Syracuse.

Nearly 300 middle school and high school 4-H members gathered in Syracuse last month for a three-day summit, attending fun-filled workshops designed to kindle life skills and learn leadership dexterity.

This year’s theme of the State Teen Action Representative Retreat (STARR): “Arrive a teen, leave a leader.”

For the past 90 years, Cornell has played a leadership role in partnership with Cornell Cooperative Extension county associations, for the New York State 4-H program, where there are now about 172,000 teen members. These teens make new friends and get immersed into cultural diversity, said Jamila Simon, Cornell’s New York state 4-H civic engagement coordinator. “It’s great to have an annual leadership retreat to re-energize 4-H’ers by bringing them together to share ideas, reinforce their great work, and find new ways to carry out their work, projects and activities,” said Simon.

STARR workshops, held at the New York State Fairgrounds in Syracuse, included: “How to Be a Flight Paramedic,” which focused on career training in the air medical transportation field; and “Advanced Entomology,” where members pinned and mounted exotic butterflies from South and Central America. One summit speaker explained how to succeed in college. And at the “Putting the ‘E’ Back in Etiquette” workshop, teen members practiced proper handshakes, good posture, and how to present themselves properly for networking events, dinner parties and other social situations.

Some members also learned such life skills as public speaking and creating compelling presentations. At the “Lighten Up With Wearable Technology” workshop, members electrified their wardrobe with conductive thread and LED lights.

4-H Choose Health Action Teens (4-H CHATs) led a series of 13 interactive stations based on the Choose Health: Food, Fun and Fitness curriculum developed by nutritional sciences researcher Wendy Wolfe. The teens collaborated with nutrition educators from Broome, Monroe and Onondaga counties and taught peers about nutrition, fitness and social-emotional wellness.

Stations emphasized the benefits of yoga, explained nutritional facts about fast food and sugary drinks, and taught the teens how to “bike your own” smoothies, which used special bicycles with a pedal-powered blender.

“Youth voice is incredibly powerful,” said Simon. “We create opportunities for young people in order to execute their ideas, and that leads to community development.”

The “Eat4-Health” program partnership – intended to battle youth obesity – is funded through a $30,000 grant from National 4-H Council to New York State 4-H. It is sponsored by UnitedHealthcare and delivered in collaboration with the federally funded Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program. Grant funds support programming within the CCE offices of Broome, Madison, Monroe, Oneida, Onondaga and Warren counties.

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Blaine Friedlander