Category Archives: 4-H and Youth

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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Extension agents reach out to unlicensed child care providers

Caring for children can be a stressful and difficult job.

But, when a child care provider tries to care for too many children, accidents can happen. According to a study by The Washington Post, about 60 children died in Virginia day care settings between 2004 and 2014. Nearly 75 percent of these deaths occurred at unlicensed homes, where child care providers faced no inspections or background checks.

As a result of these tragic accidents, several new, stricter state laws were passed in Virginia in 2015. As this issue was recognized, Karen DeBord, Virginia Cooperative Extension family and human development specialist, saw a need to reach out to and provide education to unlicensed child care providers.

“Very often, people start agreeing to care for children and unknowingly stretch the limits. Families may ask them to care for their child, and caring adults open their doors and hearts to help but end up taking on too many children,” DeBord said.

Virginia Cooperative Extension’s new child care database enrolls unlicensed child care providers, offers free educational materials to improve child safety, and encourages appropriate activities for learning. The goal of this initiative is to locate unlicensed child care providers and supply them with resources ranging from school readiness activities and day trip ideas to safety checklists and nutritional information, while building trust with the providers.

The website directs child care providers to a survey asking for general information, such as how many children are in their care, the children’s ages, and the provider’s name and email address.

Once Extension agents learn more about the child care providers from the information they provide on the survey, agents can supply them with age-specific resources for the children under their supervision. DeBord says the agents offer school preparedness and literacy exercises for preschool-aged children.

“We want children to be safe and ready for school,” DeBord said. “No matter the season, we want them to be spending their time involved in healthy learning activities.”

Extension agents are working with state child care organizations and agencies in order to spread the word to those interested in the free resources Extension has to offer. Those who take the survey, which can be found at, have access to the website’s information and resources.

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