On the eve of our annual feast, I am reminded of the close connection between this holiday and 4-H. One of the capstone events available through 4-H is the National 4-H Congress, and it begins on the Friday after Thanksgiving and ends on the following Tuesday. National 4-H Congress used to be held in Chicago, and although I wasn’t in Michigan at that time, I can imagine that quite a few Michigan 4-H youth participated in that event. Today’s National 4-H Congress has changed considerably. It has moved south, presented in Atlanta, Georgia, each year instead of Chicago. And the event has taken a turn towards service, recognizing youth for their service in 4-H, and then reinforcing that with speakers and events that give great examples of others who have served their clubs, their communities, their country or their world. Eighteen 4-H youth from Lapeer, Shiawassee, Ingham, Monroe, Hillsdale, Branch, Menominee, Marquette and St. Joseph counties will represent Michigan, this year. They will be joined by Pat Waugh, Michigan State University Extension 4-H youth educator from Lapeer County, and Frank Cox, 4-H youth educator from Muskegon County, as leaders and chaperones. Chelsea Carl, 4-H youth from Branch County, was selected from a national application pool to serve on the 2012 National 4-H Congress Youth Leadership Team. I serve on the Board of Directors for National 4-H Congress and will join the group in Atlanta early next week in time for the board meeting, which follows the closing of the event. Monday is the highlight of the event from my perspective. That is the day when all of the youth, gathered from across the nation, go into the schools and neighborhoods of Atlanta to carry out service projects. Youth also raise funds to help pay for the construction of a new home through Habitat for Humanity. So as many of us are tempted to sleep in on Friday morning (or go shopping), keep in mind those youth from Michigan and elsewhere who will be heading out for Atlanta.
The connection between 4-H and Thanksgiving reminded me of a story I posted just a few weeks ago about a youth from Kent County, Nate Seese, whose service is the subject of a video contributed as part of the 4-H Revolution of Responsibility campaign. Nate tells the story of deciding to donate the meat from livestock he raised as part of his 4-H project to a local food bank to help ensure that families facing budget challenges would still have access to protein in their diets. Nate’s desire and commitment to give is inspiring for all of us. And as is so often the case, his generosity draws out generosity from others – the bidders at the 4-H auction agree to make the livestock available for the food bank, a local meat locker agreed to donate their butchering and preparation services, and the food bank volunteers help to distribute the meat. National 4-H Council hosted Cooperative Extension directors and administrators from across the country at a luncheon in San Francisco recently, a part of the program at the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) Convention. During the luncheon, Andy Ferrin, senior vice president and chief marketing officer at National 4-H Council, showed Nate’s video to the entire group gathered for lunch. I was humbled to see Nate’s story told again – humbled by his generosity and inspired by his leadership. Ultimately, the Thanksgiving holiday is a holiday that reminds us that we depend on others around us in so many ways. Those who grow crops and livestock, those who get food to the store or market where we buy it, those who help us understand how to prepare food safely, and on and on. The best way to express thanks is to give. And Nate reminded me of that with his story. Enjoy this unique and special holiday as many 4-H youth will in Atlanta this weekend – by giving to others.