My perspective: A member's story on virtual 4-H

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4-H member making mask
4-H member Ava Anderson looked for the positive of COVID-19 and helped her community by sewing face masks.

Editor Note: At midnight Aug. 31, the 4-H year will end and a new year begin. In a summer filled with challenges, one 4-H member rose above the hardship and lived her 4-H pledge: To Make the Best Better (in a virtual world).

By: Ava Anderson
Ellery Panther's 4-H Club President
Edwards County 4-H Ambassador

In 4-H, kids roll up their sleeves and do with their hands.Their experiences grow the curiosity they need for life and career. 4-H is America’s largest youth development program, empowering nearly six million young people with the skills to lead a lifetime. Based on their interests and guided by adult mentors, youth develop their own path in 4-H.

Our nation was impacted by a harsh illness that caused us all to press pause on our day-to-day activities and stay at home for our safety. However, the stay-at-home order issued by our government did not stop our 4-H’ers from being involved in the organization and live our motto: “learn by doing.” The COVID-19 pandemic created new opportunities for each 4-H member. We found new ways to complete our projects, interact with one another, and work together in our communities. Since March, 4-H’ers in Edwards County have been provided with many opportunities to broaden their knowledge, virtually work with one another, and complete the 4-H year.

Each month of the 4-H year, the Ellery Panthers 4-H Club of Edwards County meets to discuss business; share information on individual projects through talks, demonstrations, and specials; and serve our community. In March, the group transitioned to prerecorded YouTube videos as its meeting platform.

For months, I have been honored to guide my club meetings and activities through our YouTube platform. I have tried my best to follow the same parliamentary procedure as we typically would in our traditional meeting including roll call, pledges, new and old business, demonstrations, talks, specials, and announcements. Our members have continued to learn and share knowledge on projects with the club, as well as be challenged to learn new ways of learning which we'll need in the future.

Since all our meetings are online, we are no longer were bound to county or state lines. We participated in a virtual meeting with 4-H’ers from Saratoga County, New York. Leland Bunting, a former 4-H'er from Edwards County, is now a 4-H coordinator for Saratoga County and was looking for a way his members could connect with others. He reached out to Debra Collier, Edwards County 4-H coordinator, and scheduled a Zoom meeting with some of his members. We talked about the difference in our environments, what 4-H projects we are taking, and activities we enjoy through 4-H. One New York member said tornado sirens are not common there, whereas ours are tested monthly. They enjoy an annual lock-in, ice cream social, and water fight during fair week. I doubt I would have ever taken time to do this had COVID-19 not changed how I thought about connecting with others.

University of Illinois Extension changed the way they interacted with us, too. This summer, 250 4-Hers joined together online to learn about 4-H state and national opportunities, including activities, committees, teams, Collegiate 4-H, 4-H camp, Speaking for Illinois 4-H, National Day of Service, National 4-H Conference, and more. 4-H alumni who participated in each team discussed their experiences. This meeting definitely gave me more information on state and national opportunities through 4-H, including the new Youth Food Advocacy Team, coordinated by Mark Becker, Illinois 4-H food systems specialist. I am honored to say that I am in the beginning stages of acceptance for this team of about twenty 4-H members from all across the state!

This year has definitely been different, no one can deny that, but 4-H members are learning even more by completing our individual projects virtually. I recently entered my Sports Nutrition project in the food and clothing show. Through this project, I learned the importance of physical health, eating a well-balanced and healthy diet, how to build an appealing slideshow, and how to submit a project virtually! Through the help of my project supervisor, 4-H leaders, and 4-H coordinator, I was able to submit an amazing project that I can hopefully use for various activities for years to come. The time and energy our 4-H leaders put into this program is incredible and I will forever be grateful for that.

Despite the many negatives COVID-19 has created, 4-H has responded positively by continuing to grow and evolve with virtual opportunities. Going virtual has broadened my communication skills using technology, as well as provided new experiences I never would have had otherwise.