What started as a family tradition of showing animals through a county 4-H program took a turn to community service and eventually produced a top West Virginia youth volunteer for 2011.
Lauren Lanier, a 17-year-old junior at Point Pleasant High School, received the Prudential Spirit of the Community Award, a nationwide program honoring young people for outstanding volunteerism. Lanier is one of 50 state winners.
The high school student was just 9-years-old when her mother introduced her to 4-H. Lanier loves horses, though her interest wasn’t held by the program’s agricultural components alone. Instead, she found a passion for service – one of the 4-H program’s core values.
“Can you imagine a world without volunteering?” she asked. “Can you imagine how many projects would go undone or how many people would go without help? Imagine if someone had to pay for all the hours of service that others donate. We wouldn’t be able to accomplish anything.”
Lanier has helped raise more than $86,000 for cancer research through programs like Relay for Life. She served as an assistant captain for her church’s team before starting a Relay for Life team of her own to encourage teens to become involved in the cause and raise cancer awareness.
Always interested in community service, Lanier found her activities really began to hit close to home after she was diagnosed with melanoma in August 2009. But she didn’t let that slow her down. Now in remission, her charity work takes on a whole new meaning.
“It’s one thing to watch someone go through something horrible like cancer, and how people who volunteer to help raise money or awareness can help them,” she said. “But, to be the one to experience how something so small can bring so much joy to someone who is dealing with something like cancer, it just makes me want to do more to help.”
The teenager, who dreams of someday becoming a doctor, has taken her work to the next level. She’s created a new “Don’t have a FRY-day” campaign that she’s implementing in high schools now and at county 4-H camps in West Virginia this summer.
The campaign teaches teens about the risks associated with tanning and overexposure to the sun.
Lanier is a member of the Kountry Kritters 4-H Club in Mason County and has served as a junior counselor for her county’s summer camp twice. She was awarded the “Health H” at camp in 2010; she said she was particularly touched that the counselors would nominate someone with cancer to receive an award for health.
As part of her Spirit of the Community award, Lanier will receive $1,000 and an all-expense-paid trip to Washington, D.C., this May to meet with fellow youth volunteers. While she’s looking forward to sightseeing and city life, she’s most excited about the opportunity to share and collaborate with other youth volunteer leaders.
She credits her success to having a Christian family, a good church community and participating in a program that teaches her to help others.
“A lot of adults tend to look down at teenagers as a group and make the assumption that we’re lazy or that we’re up to no good. I love that 4-H and community service work helps teens to break down that stereotype,” she said. “We help represent the next generation, and it’s a good generation.”
For more than a century, 4-H has focused on agricultural science, electricity, mechanics, entrepreneurship and natural sciences. Today, 4-H out-of-school opportunities also exist in subjects like rocketry, robotics, bio-fuels, renewable energy and computer science.
To learn more about new opportunities in the 4-H program, visit www.ext.wvu.edu, or contact your local county office of the WVU Extension Service.
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CONTACT: Ann Bailey Berry, WVU Extension
304-293-5691 (office); 304-376-7740 (cell)