When sixteen-year-old Ashlee Smith isn’t completing schoolwork or taking part in cross-country travels, she’s using her head, heart, hands and health to better her life through the nation’s leading youth development program.
A dedicated West Virginia University 4-H Youth and Development member, Smith is one of only eight teens from across the country to be appointed as a youth member of the 2016 National 4-H Congress Design Team. This role calls on youths to plan, lead and strategize for the next generation of 4-H’ers.
Smith will be responsible for helping to plan the 2016 National 4-H Congress, an annual event dating back more than 90 years attended by thousands of 4-H youths, volunteers and leaders nationwide. Youths at the event network with other members and participate in educational workshops focused on diversity, cultural experiences, leadership and team development.
While the responsibility might seem intimidating to some, Smith says her time in 4-H has helped her welcome new opportunities that push her out of her comfort zone.
“As you can imagine, I’m a little nervous, but this role is pushing me to challenge myself which indicates that I will grow and benefit from the experience.” said Smith. “I’ve helped plan and carry out many 4-H activities on a local club and county level, but have never done so on a national level.”
According to Wayne County WVU Extension 4-H Agent Julie Tritz, Smith’s appointment is a true honor and testament to quality of West Virginia 4-H programs.
“Ashlee is such a talented young person,” said Tritz. “Since she first started in 2009, I’ve watched her grow leaps and bounds in confidence and tenacity—now she is pioneering the way for youths in West Virginia to become leaders in their communities and beyond.”
As one of Smith’s mentors, Tritz said she wasn’t a bit surprised to see Smith appointed to such an important role. In fact, she knew Smith would be a trailblazer of service and initiative in her community when she started the Wayne County 4-H Heritage Quilt Trail project in 2014, an idea to beautify Wayne County with handmade heritage quilts for barns and other facilities.
“The idea has really taken off in our community, so much that when WVU President E. Gordon Gee stopped here during his 55 county tour, he was so impressed that he commissioned our Wayne County 4-H ambassadors to make one,” said Tritz. “The initiative was even recognized at the National 4-H Agents Association in Portland, Oregon where our team flew out to present the idea and inspire others to perform service.”
As for her success in solidifying the position, Smith says it wouldn’t have been possible without the support of her friends and family—both 4-H and biological.
“My Extension agent, Julie Tritz, helped empower me to take this step—she is a true leader who encourages the 4-H’ers in my county to always believe in ourselves,” said Smith. “My parents who are 4-H All-Stars and active volunteers have also helped me by teaching me to have confidence in myself and try for new opportunities, even if they seem like a long shot.”
Smith’s ultimate goal, however, is to inspire every 4-H’er to get as much from the program as she has.
“I constantly use the skills I have learned in 4-H or call on the people I have met through 4-H for help,” said Smith. “I will carry a deep gratitude for 4-H for the rest of my life—and I hope to help plan an event that will give the 2016 Congress delegates a memorable experience that will spark a passion for 4-H in each of them.”
The story of a 4-H youth excelling beyond their peers isn’t a new phenomenon. According to a decade-long Tufts University study, 4-H youths are four times more likely to make contributions to their communities and two times more likely to be civically active.
According to Smith, much of the contribution to her community is a reflection of the impact 4-H has made in her life.
“I love 4-H because it has given me many opportunities to practice and improve my public speaking, team work, organization and leadership skills in a judgement free environment,” said Smith. “It means a lot to me because it has molded me into the person that I am today.”
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, biofuels, 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 office of the WVU Extension Service.
CONTACT: Cassie Thomas, WVU Extension Service
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