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Digital media program empowers youth to express themselves

4-H Oscar recipients.

The Keystone and Torch 4-H Club production team celebrates after receiving a 4-H Oscar for its digital media project, “I‘m Different and It‘s OK,” at the 2015 Virginia Youth Voices Red Carpet Event.

“With assistance from the state 4-H office, the Virginia Youth Voices program will be sustained for youth who have something important to say through digital media. As the program continues to grow, higher visual and digital media impact is expected,” said Jamison.

In the digital age, computers, smartphones, tablets, and other electronic devices are becoming more prevalent every day. So how do we foster creativity, compassion, and curiosity in a time when young people are glued to their screens? We teach them how to use that technology for something more.

Virginia 4-H’s Virginia Youth Voices program empowers youth to use technology to explore and express their perspectives on issues impacting them and their communities. Participants create compelling videos, animations, photo essays, presentations, music, and other works that contribute the essential perspectives of youth to critical topics and inspire new solutions to long-standing problems.

“With greater creativity and belief in their own abilities, young people will be more engaged in their education and better prepared for a fast-changing global economy,” noted Hermon Maclin, Virginia Cooperative Extension 4-H youth development agent in Prince George County and a lead educator for the program.

Kathleen Jamison, 4-H Extension specialist, initiated the program when she was awarded an Adobe Youth Voices grant through the National 4-H Council about five years ago. Since its inception, the program has grown to include a partnership with Virginia State University’s mass communications department and has involved fifteen 4-H Extension agents and staff members and hundreds of youth across Virginia.

One success story to come from the program involves two 4-H members from military families stationed at Fort Lee in Prince George County. Renee Whitener and Madison Kirkland were selected by Adobe to receive an all-expense-paid trip to Santa Clara, California, to attend the 2013 Adobe Youth Voices Summit along with young people from around the world. Both girls appeared in and helped create a video called “Something Fearless.”

“It was a fun and challenging experience,” said Kirkland. “I had lots of fun working with my best friend and learning new skills.”

But the video is not the end result. “It’s about how the creative process sparks a young person’s ability to solve problems using creative skills and powerful storytelling techniques,” explained Maclin.

The digital projects are showcased at the Virginia Youth Voices Red Carpet Event, held annually at the Science Museum of Virginia in Richmond. It serves as the culminating event for the program and mirrors the Academy Awards, complete with Oscars. Faculty members and students from Virginia Commonwealth University’s mass media department critique the projects.

Seven clubs were recognized at the 2015 Red Carpet Event. The Keystone and Torch 4-H Club from the Fort Lee Youth Center received the Oscar for the best inspirational video. The video, “I’m Different and It’s OK,” can be viewed along with other projects on the Virginia Youth Voices Facebook page.

“The video about being different brought us closer together,” said Victoria Barnes, a member of the Keystone and Torch 4-H Club. “It helped us become more confident, and we were able to tell our stories.”

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