By Faith Peppers
University of Georgia
More than 1,200 U.S. teens gathered Nov. 29 through Dec. 3 in Atlanta for the 81st National 4-H Congress.
"'Celebrate the Possibilities,' the theme of this year's congress, tells the story for these young people," said Susan Stewart, National 4-H Congress director.
"Chosen for their history of leadership in communities in 46 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, each of these young people comes to Atlanta with a desire to increase their ability to lead," she said.
The youths, ages 14-19, attended educational programs and cultural events.
Dimes for Habitat
Millard Fuller, president and CEO of Habitat for Humanity International, joined the delegates to collect more than 100,000 dimes in honor of the 100th anniversary of 4-H. The money will be used to support Habitat for Humanity International and the International 4-H Youth Exchange Program.
Fuller, a former 4-H member, encouraged the delegates to participate in community service in his speech given on Saturday.
"Be bold in your thinking, it is amazing what people can do and what you can do if you stay focused," Fuller said. "I'm very appreciative of the gesture of support from 4-H and our organization will be good stewards in using the money."
New York Times reporter and Pulitzer Prize winner, Rick Bragg shared with the delegates his experiences as an Alabama 4-H'er.
"For me 4-H connected the backyard to the rest of the world," Bragg said. "It gave me a chance to look outside Calhoun County but much of what I learned taught me about where I lived."
Bragg also offered advice to this year's delegates.
4-H Benefits are for Life
"Take it seriously. 4-H has real benefits that will show up later in life, like with me," Bragg said. "It is fun to meet people and have a good time but it is much more than that and you should take advantage of the opportunity."
The group also heard from Miss America 2003 Erika Harold, who also performed with the U.S. Army Band.
The delegates attended educational programs on topics ranging from youth leadership to cultural diversity. A global simulation workshop allowing the delegates to help solve the world's problems was also a program choice.
"Congress delegates will return home better able to make a difference in their own communities," Stewart said. "The knowledge gained during their stay in Atlanta will be used to make positive changes in communities across the nation. Atlanta provides an excellent backdrop for the diversity of cultural experience National 4-H Congress offers."
Delegates learned community service, too, from a hands-on point of view. Along with Miss America, Erika Harold, delegates worked at Art of the Season, a community outreach program of Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, leading children in making crafts.
(Faith Peppers is the director of public affairs with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)