As the threat of rain loomed over this year's County Fair opening, the 4-H Teen Ambassadors shined during the Legislative Tour with their enthusiasm, knowledge and presentation skills.
Cornell Cooperative Extension of Chautauqua County's (CCE-CH) 4-H Teen Ambassador Program is designed to provide 4-H youth additional opportunities to learn, improve and practice their leadership skills. One of the highlights of this year-long program is showing Chautauqua County's elected officials what 4-H is all about, and its positive impact on youth development.
This is no easy task. Teen ambassadors meet early on to plan and organize a smooth and informative tour, in which each elected official has an assigned teen ambassador.
County Executive Greg Edwards meets with 4-H Teen Ambassadors prior to going on tour.
The junior superintendents from each program/project area are also involved to determine who will the "spokesperson" for their area as the tour makes its rounds.
"This is when our kids really shine," Cheryl Robinson said. "It's an opportunity to show the skills they have learned from participating in Public Presentation Days."
In addition to the tour, teen ambassadors also operate the 4-H Store, which sells a variety of 4-H items from hats and pens, to really cool shits. This year, the "Got Green" theme was created by teen ambassadors using the 4-H logo as the exclamation point. In keeping with the theme, teen ambassadors also set-up displays and activities on environmental stewardship in the 4-H Building. All proceeds are used to offset expenses and pay for programming.
Since 2001, Robinson has been the volunteer leader for the Teen Ambassador Program. The ides of the program was to find different ways to promote 4-H both internally as well as externally. "Our teen ambassadors also wanted to reach beyond their own clubs and projects to bring all 4-H'ers together for the good of 4-H," she said.
If you ask Robinson why she works with the 4-H Teen Ambassador Program, the answer is very simple - to make a difference. "It's the kids that make this all worthwhile. It is very satisfying to see these kids grow personally, and being able to nurture their mind, spirit and heart," she said.
In the past, 4-H members could only see other 4-H'ers at the County Fair, which was the highlight of the year-long program. During one winter, some of the youth could no longer wait until July to see their fellow 4-H'ers. This outpouring led to the creation of the Teen Ambassador Program. The first-ever winter teen retreat was held Silver Creek High School, complete with swimming, music, movies, and team-building activities.
To become a member, youth must be between 14-19 years of age, and submit an application and resume, and complete an interview. As a member, you have monthly meetings that involve hands-on learning, brainstorming for their next sponsored event, and other mission-related activities.
Robinson says she always provides snacks for the group, which brings a sense of family to the group. "Everyone has a voice as a teen ambassador," she said. "One of the characteristics of this group is that the older kids ensure that the youngest of members are included. It goes beyond just mentoring, in that the younger kids become like siblings to our older members. It is this type of nurturing that helps youth reach their fullest potential. Teen ambassadors also have opportunities to connect with Cornell University, and learn through hands-on activities, become leaders, inspire others, and so much more."
The concept of 4-H got its start around the beginning of the twentieth century through the efforts of youth-oriented people in several areas of the United States. The "learning by doing" model came from the desire to make education even more available and relevant to youth living in rural parts of the country. Studies have shown "that 4-H helps kids to do better in school, learn to help others, feel more capable and responsible."
Today, more emphasis is devoted to life skills development in youth, and does so through 4-H's traditional hands-on learning approach.