Well Connected Communities Welcomes New Youth Leaders to Steering Committee

The Well Connected Communities initiative relies on input from a national Steering Committee to ensure that strategies and tactics utilized by the initiative align with best practices of related fields. The Steering Committee includes representatives of various organizations who share a commitment to health equity, local action, youth voice, and advancing the community engagement mission of the nation’s land grant universities. Members are thought leaders in the organizations they represent and offer advice to initiative leadership at various times throughout the year.  Members of the steering committee are listed here.

In 2021, Nathan Grine, Sophia Rodriguez, Paris Woods, and Mayyadah Zagelow, have joined the steering committee as youth members.

“Because the decisions that we make today will have a significant impact on the type of world that the young people will live in as adults,” says Roger Rennekamp, the Health Director with the Extension Committee on Organization and Policy (ECOP), “it is fitting and proper that they are involved in making those decisions.”

Meet these youth and read their bios below.

Nathan Grine | Ohio State University
National 4-H Council Young Alumni Advisory Committee Member

Nathan Grine was involved in the Ohio 4-H program for 10 years as a member and continues to give back as a young alumnus. He is currently a first-year graduate student pursuing a master’s in Higher Education and Student Affairs at the University of Maryland. Following graduation, Nathan would like to work in higher education advancement and fundraising. While in 4-H, he was heavily involved in leadership programming and youth advocacy efforts at both the state and national level. Nathan is continually invested in elevating all voices and perspectives while creating equitable experiences that further promote youth development.

Sophia Rodriguez | University of Georgia
National 4-H Council Young Alumni Advisory Committee Member

Sophia Rodriguez has been involved in 4-H in Georgia for 10 years. She is a junior at the University of Georgia majoring in Human Development and Family Sciences, International Affairs, and minoring in Spanish. Post-graduation, Sophia aspires to do research for an education policy firm and contribute to bettering the United States’ education system. As a 4-H’er, she focused on programs highlighting Communications, the Arts, and Healthy Living, and currently, Sophia finds joy in cultivating genuine support systems that champion inclusivity and advocate for others.

Paris Woods | James Madison University
National 4-H Council Young Alumni Advisory Committee Member

Paris Woods has been involved in 4-H in Virginia for 12 years. She is a Senior at James Madison University, majoring in Justice Studies with a concentration in Social Justice and Interventions, with minors in Political Science and Nonprofit Studies. Post-Graduation, Paris hopes to receive her masters in International Relations and Diplomacy to hopefully work for an International Human Rights organization, or as a United States Diplomat. As a 4-Her, Paris was heavily involved in 4-H Summer Camps, Teen Development Programs, and served on the Virginia 4-H State Cabinet for two years. She has an ever-growing passion for youth and story-telling with ambitions to increase opportunities for intentional service.

Mayyadah Zagelow | Washington State University | Washington
2021 Healthy Living Youth in Action Award Winner

At a young age, Mayyadah Zagelow struggled with her mental health through anxiety and selective mutism, unable to express her thoughts at school and in other environments. Combined with bullying at school by those she had once considered friends, Mayyadah felt isolated and betrayed. That’s when she joined 4-H, and her journey to overcoming anxiety began. Through 4-H, Mayyadah learned to turn difficult experiences into empowering opportunities as she learned to speak up and speak out for herself and for others who feel voiceless.   

Passionate about LGBTQ+ rights and addressing social inequities, Mayyadah is a founding member of a grassroots youth movement in Washington state called the Teen Equity and Inclusion Task Force. Through this taskforce, Mayyadah is working with fellow 4-H’ers to educate adults and teens alike through workshops and grassroots efforts about gender identities, expression, orientation and biological sex, as well as the challenges facing the LGBTQ+ community in hopes of creating a world of inclusion for all 4-H youth. The task force also provides a safe space and healthy environment for youth to share their stories. Using teamwork strategies and communication skills, Mayyadah seeks to lift up the varied stories of 4-H’s diverse youth. Mayyadah recently graduated from high school and is currently attending Central Washington University.  

National 4-H Council Joins White House COVID-19 Community Corps

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced additional measures to encourage vaccinations and increase vaccine confidence as part of the next phase of its COVID-19 public education campaign. The Administration is launching the COVID-19 Community Corps – a nationwide, grassroots network of local voices people know and trust to encourage Americans to get vaccinated. As part of the launch of the Community Corps, Vice President Kamala Harris and Surgeon General Vivek Murthy will meet with founding members on Thursday, April 1, as she begins championing the next phase of the public education campaign from the White House.

National 4-H Council joins the Community Corps, which is comprised of trusted voices in communities across the country. The Administration will regularly share updated public health information and resources for the corps members to use with their communities to help get friends, family, and followers vaccinated.

Read the full press release from U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

University of Maryland Eastern Shore WCC team honored by Princess Anne Town Commissioners

On Monday, February 1, 2021, The Princess Anne Town Commissioners presented to  the University of Maryland Eastern Shore-Well Connected Communities (UMES -WCC) team, a Certificate of Appreciation in recognition of the UMES-WCC team‘s dedication and diligence in Community Service to the Town of Princess Anne, MD.

 “On behalf of the UMES-WCC team,  I would like to thank you and the Princess Anne Town Commissioners for this honor,” said Dr. Virginie Zoumenou, who leads UMES-WCC. “Being honored with this Certificate of Appreciation leaves no doubt that the accomplishments of the UMES-WCC in Somerset County and beyond are recognized and valued by the community members.” She concluded by saying, “We look forward to more collaborative work to ensure an engaged and healthy community in the Tri-County area of the Lower Eastern Shore of Maryland and beyond.”

REPOST: With a Focus on Equity, Geography No Longer Has To Be Destiny

By Olugbenga Ajilore and Katrina Badger  November 19, 2020, 3:51 pm

This article was originally posted on The Center for American Progress website and is reposted here with permission. To read the full article visit https://ampr.gs/3pJaNQ6.

Regardless of where people in the United States live—rural, urban, or somewhere in between—the COVID-19 pandemic has affected their lives and livelihoods. Certain groups are suffering disproportionately, including people of color, workers with low incomes, front-line workers, and people living in places that were already struggling financially before the economic downturn brought on by the pandemic. Many rural, tribal, and parts of metropolitan areas fall into the “already struggling” category—places that were dealing with health, economic, and social inequities long before the coronavirus arrived.

Likewise, the police killing of George Floyd and other Black Americans, one of the flashpoints sparking the most recent calls for racial justice, has affected the entire country. And while the focus of the protests has been on major urban centers, the media began compiling cases where predominantly white, small-town America—in Ohio, South Dakota, Texas, Wyoming, Oklahoma, Maine, and beyond—marched in support of the movement for Black lives. In these moments, people tend to forget that rural America encompasses the lands and peoples of more than 560 sovereign Indigenous nations; Black and Latino hubs in the Deep South and Southwest; and refugee communities across the Midwest.

With the pandemic calling for racial justice, the challenges of rural communities may seem at first glance unrelated; looking just a bit closer, however, it becomes clear that this issue and these regions are intimately connected. Advancing health and racial equity in America requires a broad set of stakeholders, such as researchers, lawmakers, and on-the-ground advocates, to make significant investment in rural areas in order to move policy and build power. To that end, policymakers must build a more comprehensive equity analysis that accounts for economic, racial, health, as well as geographic inequities.

When considering the question of how to drive action on this new approach, policymakers at all levels must factor in the following key insights and understandings…

To read the full article visit https://ampr.gs/3pJaNQ6.

West Virginia Snowflake Conference

Youth team from two West Virginia communities who attended the 2020 National Healthy Living Summit planned and coordinated a conference (Snowflake Conference) to address mental health as a health inequity in their communities.

Due to COVID-19 restrictions on events and gatherings, youth pivoted their planning and logistics to a virtual platform. On October 10, 2020, 19 youth and 11 adults attended the Snowflake conference to address mental health as a health disparity in their communities. Youth participants agreed that as a result of successfully implementing this conference, they are confident in their abilities to plan and execute an idea to drive community change.

The impact of this conference is demonstrated in opportunities youth participants see for disseminating the project as a pilot or small-scale model for collaborative leadership and placed-based change for rural communities. Three counties have expressed interest in replicating this concept in their communities and ideas generated by this youth-led virtual conference have inspired state-level Extension committees on Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging to begin making plans for a similar youth-led statewide summit.

4-H, Norris Square Community Alliance promote food security in Philadelphia

Jack Ouligian August 04, 2020

Lauren Perez, a 4-H program coordinator in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia, delivers food and other items to a family. Image: Lauren Perez

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa — 4-H, a nationwide youth-development program administered in Pennsylvania by Penn State Extension, empowers and educates children and young adults across the commonwealth — a mission that naturally attracts generous, caring and dedicated employees.

“Their passion is not just limited to office hours either,” said Deborah Dietrich, an area 4-H extension educator who is responsible for 11 counties, including Philadelphia. “They make an impact in local communities both in and outside of the job.”

These qualities were displayed in early June, when Lauren Perez, a 4-H program coordinator in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia, told her colleagues about riots that had taken place in the community recently and the impact that civil unrest had on families.

“My 4-H kids’ access to food had been disrupted on an epic scale,” Perez said. “There was devastation and destruction on Kensington Avenue. People were afraid to leave their homes, and no organizations were going into the neighborhood because looting was going on.”

On June 1, Perez met with a representative from the North Square Community Alliance, with which 4-H has partnered through the Well-Connected Communities program, a collaboration among Penn State Extension, the National 4-H Council and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Well-Connected Communities is designed to support coalition-building in Norris Square to help set a direction for positive change around health challenges in this community.

Perez explained the situation in Philadelphia to her fellow educators. “I showed them pictures and told them a little bit of backstory,” Perez said. “In the course of three days, they had raised money, shopped, prepared food and delivered it to my house by Friday.”

Donations came entirely from staff members, business acquaintances and family. Thanks to her colleagues’ aid, Perez visited 30 of her 4-H families June 5, bringing not only enrichment materials, but also bags of food and “Messages of Hope” — letters written by other 4-H members across the commonwealth.

“We wanted them to know that there were fellow 4-H members out there,” said Dietrich. “Their experience might be different from, say, a kid in Lancaster County, but we wanted them to know that they were a part of something bigger, and that this something bigger cares about them.”

While Perez continued delivering food to families every Friday for a few weeks, 4-H and the Norris Square Community Alliance began to deepen their collaboration. Together, they created a plan to feed all the youth who were going to receive food through the Norris Square Community Alliance’s summer programming, a group that included the 4-H members with whom Perez works.

The funding for the food distribution came from the pool initially set up by the Penn State Extension 4-H educators, and 4-H worked alongside the Norris Square Community Alliance to address issues related to food preparation, social distancing and COVID-19.

“We saw a need, and we realized that it was not efficient to keep delivering 60 lunches in a community every Friday,” said Dietrich. “There were better ways to do it. We don’t just make short-term commitments to communities; we make long-term commitments, and we wanted to make sure that our plan had organization and follow-through.”

In the days after Gov. Tom Wolf designated Philadelphia County as a “green” zone, 4-H helped the Norris Square Community Alliance switch to an on-site food delivery program, feeding youth in a Norris Square Community Alliance building while adhering to social distancing guidelines.

In addition, the organizations offered socially distant, in-person programs focused on mental health and indoor gardening. And while these programs were switched to a virtual format following an order from city government, the Norris Square Community Alliance continues to feed youths on-site with guidance and funding from 4-H.

“We had planned on doing youth development with the Norris Square kids in their summer programs, so we already had a connection with the organization,” said Dietrich. “But this has grown into something more. We’re not just giving out food or money, we’re working with the community to show them how they can organize and meet their own needs, to set an example that the community can follow.”

Although 4-H, in normal times, provides key resources to schools and communities through clubs, projects and leadership activities, this partnership has allowed for moments of growth and understanding in both organizations.

“The most remarkable thing here is that these organizations have collaborated and communicated together so effectively,” Perez said. “Sometimes people with good intentions get frustrated with the people they are helping because they do not understand the community that they are helping, while the community that they are helping does not know what to do with the resources that they have been given.”

But here, she pointed out, the experience has shown each group a unique perspective and has led to “a wonderful moment where people realize that, if you bridge that gap between each other, it can lead to much greater success.”

More information on Penn State Extension’s 4-H programming can be found at https://extension.psu.edu/programs/4-h.

Closing Thoughts: On the Power of Youth and System Change

Michelle Skiles Rodgers, University of Delaware Cooperative Extension, and Monica Hobbs Vinluan, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, share their thoughts on how youth can play an important role in being a catalyst for system change in this article from the Journal of Youth Development.
Read the full article here: