4-H Youth

June Zoppa Wins the Northeast 4-H Lifetime Volunteer Award

June ZoppaUConn 4-H has selected June Zoppa, a 46-year volunteer of the UConn 4-H Program as the Connecticut nominee for the National 4-H Lifetime Volunteer Award. She won the Northeast 4-H Lifetime Volunteer Award and now moves on to compete nationally.

June Zoppa is an integral part of the 4-H community in Hartford County Connecticut. She is the only volunteer who serves or has served simultaneously on the Hartford County 4-H Advisory Board, Hartford County 4-H Fair Association, and the Hartford County 4-H Camp, Inc, Board of Trustees, while serving as a 4-H club leader. As new volunteers join the committees and boards, June has grown from their new ideas and ways of executing programming or operations. New and experienced volunteers speak about June’s ability to sensitively work through challenges and create innovative solutions that propel Hartford County 4-H towards reaching its goals and achieving its mission.

She is selfless in the time she gives to many aspects of the 4-H Program affecting thousands of youth on an annual basis. She is a go-to volunteer and her contributions to the Hartford County 4-H Program will continue to positively impact generations of UConn 4-H’ers for years to come.

June has served as a 4-H Fair Association Advisor since 2002. In this role, she mentors and empowers officers as they plan and implement the Hartford County 4-H Fair. June regularly serves as an Advisor for Fair Ad Hoc and subcommittees. As a member of the 4-H Advisory Board, June organized and procured items for the annual silent auction. June also served as the committee’s treasurer for 21 years and currently and serves as Committee Chair.

Her pragmatic approach allows the 4-Hers to take charge of the tasks at hand but is hands on in many of the Fair’s aspects up to and including spending the entire week prior to the fair ensuring its success.

The 4-H Camp Board of Trustees has benefitted from her expertise with stocking and promoting the camp store and annual Camp T-shirt design. June has sat on many Camp committees such as Staff Procurement, Maintenance and Special Events volunteering wherever she’s needed to make sure the 4-H campers have a safe and happy summer. In the over 30 years of her Camp Board involvement, June has attended almost every spring and fall work weekend ensuring that the over 1200+ campers and 200 teen counselors have a positive 4-H camp experience.

June’s 4-H Club “4-H Clovers” is in East Hartford. Zoppa Studios expanded their facilities building a ‘4-H Room’ where they host weekly club meetings and county committee meetings (Fair, Camp, and Advisory), as well as providing storage space while absorbing all expenses (utilities, storage, etc.). June follows UConn 4-H protocols to minimize risk and ensure the safety of all 4-H members.

June dedication extends to the local community. For example, her club assembles, bakes and delivers pies to local shelters for the Thanksgiving holiday. Numerous volunteers, who June recruited, have served for decades and continue their commitment to community service and employ the leadership skills they honed with June in their professional role.

June bleeds 4-H green and consistently demonstrates a professional attitude. June is a tireless advocate for all 4-Hers. She leads by example and never boasts or takes credit for her many accomplishments. She has a focus on doing what is right for youth, even if it requires more effort or energy. She is a well-respected volunteer throughout the county and state.

Hartford County 4-H Extension Educator, Jen Cushman notes “June’s life-long dedication to the UConn 4-H Program at a highly engaged level is highly commendable and has made a lasting impact on the lives of thousands of 4-H members.” Fellow Hartford County 4-H Volunteer, Aimee Gilbert recognizes “June’s gentle spirit and strong dedication to the program help her connect with the youth members providing a positive experience. The youth members enjoy working with and learning from June as an advisor/mentor/leader.”

As the UConn 4-H nominee, June won the Northeast Outstanding Lifetime Volunteer Award and will now be competing nationally.

UConn 4-H is the youth development program of UConn CAHNR Extension. 4-H is a community of over six million young people across America who are learning Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM), leadership, citizenship, and life skills through their 4-H project work. 4-H provides youth with the opportunity to develop lifelong skills including civic engagement and healthy living. Learn more about becoming a volunteer or enrolling your child in the UConn 4-H program at http://4-H.uconn.edu/.

UConn CAHNR Extension has more than 100 years’ experience strengthening communities in Connecticut and beyond. Extension programs address the full range of issues set forth in CAHNR’s strategic initiatives:

  • Ensuring a vibrant and sustainable agricultural industry and food supply
  • Enhancing health and well-being locally, nationally, and globally
  • Designing sustainable landscapes across urban-rural interfaces
  • Advancing adaptation and resilience in a changing climate.

Programs delivered by Extension reach individuals, communities, and businesses in each of Connecticut’s 169 municipalities.

Rachael Manzer Wins the Northeast Region 4-H Volunteer of the Year Award

Rachael ManzerRachael Manzer, a five-year volunteer with UConn’s Granby 4-H Club of Granby, a UConn 4-H Alum, and former NASA astronaut teacher, won the Northeast Region 4-H Volunteer of the Year after being selected by UConn. Hartford County 4-H Extension Educator, Jen Cushman notes, “Rachael’s dedication to making a positive difference in the lives of 4-H youth has greatly expanded the STEM opportunities for 4-H Members and promoted UConn 4-H to new audiences.” Rachael Manzer exemplifies science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) in 4-H. She understands the importance and need for STEM and Agricultural Literacy, and she has increased opportunities for STEM learning by establishing the only 4-H VEX Robotics Program in New England. Rachael’s efforts have not only expanded 4-H programming throughout New England (CT and MA) members participate, but also increased the visibility of UConn 4-H on the national level as the team participated at the World Competition and the NASA Cubes in Space Competition.

This robotics program has its own “Cinderella” story – big dreams and the amazing efforts of many to make it a success. In 2015, she started 4-H Robotics with participants who had no idea how to build and program robots. After only one year, the VEX Robotics Project group expanded to include a competition team and a high school VEX Robotics Project group. The team qualified for the World VEX competitions three times! All of the teams have qualified this year for the Southern New England Championship and are hoping to yet again earn a spot at the World Championship.

Mrs. Manzer creates opportunities for 4-H’ers to go beyond the robotic competitions to share what 4-H STEM is all about. This program has done workshops for preservice teachers, led build your own robots at local libraries, and done demonstrations for the general public at the 5th largest fair in the United States.

Her enthusiasm for STEM is infectious and every 4-H’er feels important. Rachael dedicates a large amount of time to 4-H throughout the year teaching 4-H’ers how to think, not what to think, and that you learn by failure. She focuses on workforce readiness skills in communication, listening, time management, critical thinking, problem-solving, and teamwork. Rachael regularly works with the youth on public speaking, marketing, and financial operations in order to prepare the members for the various roles they encounter as a team member. They work closely with the youth in planning and implementing the building of the robot, public speaking presentations, fundraising and various community service demonstrations with the robot. The 4-H youth in her project group shared, “Mrs. Manzer is extremely dedicated to the robotics team and its members. She is constantly cheering for us, both inside of the robotics environment and out. Her encouragement has impacted us greatly.” She is growing future leaders in 4-H, STEM, and Agriculture.

Rachael Manzer’s innovation shined as she was able to keep the 4-H robotics program going during COVID-19 following safety protocols. For many of the 4-H’ers, 4-H Robotics was the only interaction with others they had outside the home.

Rachael also led an additional project group for youth who were interested in developing a science experiment to send into space. Three projects were submitted by Granby 4-H and all were selected to fly into space, in June 2018. These projects provided youth with the opportunity to work as a team, design experiments, apply scientific knowledge, and deliver a public presentation at NASA. Rachael’s impact on programming and youth is literally out of this world!

Rachael Manzer, a 4-H alumna of the Litchfield County 4-H Club, grew up showing beef cattle. 4-H gave so much to her, her goal was to give back to the organization. As Mrs. Manzer stated, “4-H helped me develop a set of skills like; teamwork, problem solving, public speaking, dependability, leadership which I use every day in my career.” Rachael Manzer is a nationally awarded educator. Currently she is the STEM Coach for Winchester Public Schools. Mrs. Manzer has experience as an educator working in both suburban and urban schools in Connecticut. She also worked in the education department at NASA Langley Research Center in Virginia. In that role, she worked with scientists, astronauts and engineers delivering the latest breakthroughs in STEM to teachers and students across the United States.

Rachael competed against nominees from the other northeast states for the Northeast Volunteer of the Year Award. She is moving forward for consideration as the National Volunteer of the Year Award.

UConn 4-H is the youth development program of UConn CAHNR Extension. 4-H is a community of over six million young people across America who are learning Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM), leadership, civic engagement, and life skills through their 4-H project work. 4-H provides youth with the opportunity to develop lifelong skills including civic engagement and healthy living. Learn more about becoming a volunteer or enrolling your child in the UConn 4-H program at http://4-H.uconn.edu/.

UConn CAHNR Extension has more than 100 years’ experience strengthening communities in Connecticut and beyond. Extension programs address the full range of issues set forth in CAHNR’s strategic initiatives:

  • Ensuring a vibrant and sustainable agricultural industry and food supply
  • Enhancing health and well-being locally, nationally, and globally
  • Designing sustainable landscapes across urban-rural interfaces
  • Advancing adaptation and resilience in a changing climate.

Programs delivered by Extension reach individuals, communities, and businesses in each of Connecticut’s 169 municipalities.

4-H Biotechnology Project Area Survey

4-H cloverAre you interested in biotechnology? UConn 4-H is pursuing grant funding in STEM programming about biotechnology and gene editing with career focus in agriculture and food sciences. 

Programming would include hands-on biotechnology activities along with the opportunity to educate others through the creation of a digital game on biotechnology/gene editing for high school age youth. Topics could include the use of biotechnology to create solutions to problems we face, for example developing insulin for patients with diabetes or addressing issues like citrus greening that prevent oranges from being harvested. We are seeking your input on the level of interest around Connecticut on expanding program opportunities in this area. Please take a moment to complete the survey at http://bit.ly/4Hbiotech the survey will close on Tuesday, April 13th. 

Mars Base Camp 4-H STEM Club Teaches Youth Skills for Future Careers

Life transformative education begins at a young age for UConn 4-H members. The 4-H project experiences provide a foundation of knowledge and instill enthusiasm for lifelong learning. A group of youth participating in the UConn 4-H Mars Base Camp STEM Club are learning about science, technology, engineering and math while launching rockets and building rovers.

Marc Cournoyer, a 4-H educator with UConn Extension, is leading this seven-week hybrid program via Zoom on Thursday afternoons. Youth participation began in February on the same day the Perseverance rover touched down on the surface of Mars and concludes with their project meeting on April 1st. Curriculum is based on the 2020 National 4-H STEM Challenge and other STEM curriculum. The goal of the program is for youth to explore Mars from rocket launch to setting up a permanent human colony on the red planet. All participants were mailed a program kit prior to the first meeting and each week they have an online discussion in conjunction with hands-on unplugged activities.

boy with hands over his head and excited expression on his face while toy rocket lies on mars map in his drivewayThere are 12 youth participating in the program, and they reside in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island. “The virtual nature of this club makes it possible to reach youth from a wider geographic distance” says Cournoyer. During the first week the group focused on rocket launches and getting to Mars – a mat with the image of Mars on it that they could leave a certain distance away from their rocket launch setup. Youth used the rockets to the rescue resources from the 2014 National Youth Science Day kit to build and successfully launch their rockets while tweaking designs to solve for problems encountered along the way.

“It was wonderful to see participants excitedly carrying their laptops around the house or making parents film their launches so they could proudly share their success,” Cournoyer says. “Throughout the next week I had parents sending me videos that the kids insisted I see as they achieved their goals. The excitement of the participants is obvious.”

The curriculum has focused on engineering design process using techniques of NASA scientists. Experiencing failures in the design and launch process builds resiliency and innovation in the youth and compounds the feeling of achievement when they reach their intended goals. Group meetings include discussions on prototyping and the scientific method, as well as engineering concepts and the science of space. Youth participants have continued researching on their own throughout the week between meetings and share additional related content of their findings.

One parent states, “I just wanted to quickly reach out and say how grateful we are for all you are doing with this club!  Jack absolutely loves all the learning and projects, and his curiosity is even stretching beyond your meeting. He’s asking questions, tinkering and overall so happy. Thank you SO much!”

Another parent reached out to say, “Luke Loves Mars camp! He’s a very reserved and shy guy; I am so happy to see him excited about this 🙂 Thank you so much for this program – it’s wonderful!”

“Club members are stretching their minds and imaginations, asking ‘What If?’ As we develop the next generation of scientists and explorers, opportunities to try new things are crucial,” Cournoyer says.

A new virtual 4-H STEM club will start in mid-April and run through May. This next seven-week club will focus on environment awareness and the important role we all play. Parents interested in enrolling youth members can email Marc.Cournoyer@uconn.edu for more information.

UConn 4-H is the youth development program of UConn CAHNR Extension. 4-H is a community of over six million young people across America who are learning Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM), leadership, citizenship and life skills through their 4-H project work. 4-H provides youth with the opportunity to develop lifelong skills including civic engagement and healthy living. Learn more and enroll your child in the UConn 4-H program at http://4-H.uconn.edu/.

UConn CAHNR Extension has more than 100 years’ experience strengthening communities in Connecticut and beyond. Extension programs address the full range of issues set forth in CAHNR’s strategic initiatives:

  • Ensuring a vibrant and sustainable agricultural industry and food supply
  • Enhancing health and well-being locally, nationally, and globally
  • Designing sustainable landscapes across urban-rural interfaces
  • Advancing adaptation and resilience in a changing climate.

Programs delivered by Extension reach individuals, communities, and businesses in each of Connecticut’s 169 municipalities.

Job Opening: Evaluation Specialist/Academic Assistant II

venn diagram of Extension programs with food, health and sustainabilityPosition Location: Storrs, CT

Position Description: Reporting to the CAHNR Associate Dean for Extension, the Evaluation Specialist works with an interdisciplinary team of faculty and staff in UConn’s College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources (CAHNR). The Evaluation Specialist provides leadership to build Cooperative Extension’s capacity to assess the effectiveness and efficiency of Extension’s instructional programs in achieving desired results and to contribute to individual, community and organizational learning and performance improvement. Capacity building includes initiatives such as conducting evaluation studies, facilitating professional development opportunities, supporting program accountability and reporting functions.

Duties and Responsibilities:
• Conduct program evaluations for multiple purposes, i.e. reporting requirements for granting agencies, and audiences on an ongoing basis.
• Provide leadership for Cooperative Extension’s internal efforts to build individual, team, and organizational evaluation capacity to improve program effectiveness through professional development including technical assistance, training, resource development and dissemination.
• Lead CAHNR initiatives specific to evaluation to programs.
• Collaborate and provide technical support to Extension faculty and staff delivering programming to local and statewide communities, groups, agencies, organizations and individuals.
• Independently travel to and carry out field work throughout the geographic region including urban, rural and remote locations and work and/or programming sites.
• Provide leadership for annual planning and reporting of Extension programs to federal funding partners.
• Advance CAHNR’s commitment to equity and inclusion by 1) considering sources of bias and structural inequity based on race, ethnicity, disability, gender, and sexual orientation, and 2) facilitating and evaluating programs that address the burden these injustices impose on members of the campus community and residents of the state where appropriate.
• Write, publish and share articles, curricula and program designs that contribute to understanding and support the scholarly practices of evaluation.
• Cooperate with other research and Extension personnel to develop strong, integrated programs.
• Collaborate on and submit grant proposals for initiatives consistent with and in support of the purpose of this position.
• Provide relevant information to public officials, legislators, the general public, and other interested parties to communicate Extension’s value.
• Develop and use an appropriate system for reporting and evaluating programs to UConn Extension and to clients, colleagues and other Extension collaborators as needed.
• Research, gather and compile information from multiple sources utilizing various systems and techniques to conduct qualitative and quantitative data analyses and reporting.
• Attend and participate in state and national program activities as appropriate, meetings, committees and local, state and national conferences; represent and serve as a representative of the Department of Extension.

Read more information, including application instructions – search 495055.

All Paws In – Join Us for UConn Gives

UConn Gives All Paws In logo

In a time of extraordinary circumstances, UConn has adapted by seeking new opportunities and new ways to keep UConn Nation connected in a socially distant world. Through all the change and uncertainty, there has been one constant—our commitment to providing an exceptional education to our program participants. During this year’s UConn Gives, a 36-hour giving initiative, you can celebrate this commitment to excellence through giving. We invite you to join us on Tuesday, March 23rd and Wednesday, March 24th in supporting one or more of our initiatives:

Extension programs cover the full spectrum of topics aligned with CAHNR’s strategic initiatives:

  • Ensuring a vibrant and sustainable agricultural industry and food supply
  • Enhancing health and well-being locally, nationally, and globally
  • Advancing adaptation and resilience in a changing climate
  • Designing sustainable landscapes across urban-rural interfaces

Our educators faced the unprecedented challenges of 2020 and pivoted programs to offer life transformative education despite the COVID-19 pandemic. Programs delivered by Extension reach individuals, communities, and businesses in each of the 169 municipalities across the state.

4-H Members Share Project at National Agriscience Summit

UConn 4-H Litchfield County was one of seven 4-H groups in the country to be selected to create and submit a five to seven minute video to be made available to participants at the 2021 National 4-H Agriscience Summit held earlier this month. The video highlights the county’s Community Action Plan entitled Operation Community Impact, which helped address food insecurity in the county by securing donations of milk that were distributed to local food pantries and over 1,400 different food insecure families through 14 different deliveries over the past 10 months. Thank you to all our 4-H members, volunteers, Extension educators, and others for moving this to a statewide initiative.

Undergraduate Summer Internships with UConn Extension

photos of three of the summer interns

Applications are being accepted for UConn Extension’s undergraduate summer internship program.

Students: Get paid and gain valuable in-the-field experience in your chosen discipline at an in-state Extension office location.

• Food • Health • Nutrition • Sustainability • Research • Agribusiness • Youth Education • Community Development • Marketing

Learn where Extension offices are located across the state here so you can apply to an internship.pdf that is close to where you will be living this summer.

Get paid while learning and working in a career-oriented role. Most of these roles are for an average 18-20 hours per week over the 10 week summer period with some requiring a bit of weekend and/or evening hours, although these circumstances vary by position. Some of these positions for employment are contingent upon the successful completion of a pre-employment criminal background check.

UConn Extension is the premiere public engagement program at the University of Connecticut. Extension has eight offices in strategic locations statewide as well as the Sea Grant office at the Avery Point campus and the administrative office on the Storrs campus. Extension programs cover the full spectrum of topics related to food, health and sustainability. Programs delivered by Extension reach individuals, communities, and businesses in each of the 169 municipalities across the state. Extension has approximately 100 faculty and staff in the Department of Extension with another 20 faculty and staff with partial Extension appointments in the academic departments of the UConn College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources.

Applications are due April 5th, 2021

Learn more at http://s.uconn.edu/interns

Extension Impacts – 2020

cover of 2020 Extension impact flyerExtension is a part of UConn’s College of Agriculture, Health, and Natural Resources (CAHNR). We have over 100 years of experience strengthening communities in Connecticut and beyond. Extension programs cover the full spectrum of topics aligned with CAHNR’s strategic initiatives:

  • Ensuring a vibrant and sustainable agricultural industry and food supply
  • Enhancing health and well-being locally, nationally, and globally
  • Advancing adaptation and resilience in a changing climate
  • Designing sustainable landscapes across urban-rural interfaces

Rising to the Challenge

Our educators faced the unprecedented challenges of 2020 and pivoted programs to offer life transformative education despite the COVID-19 pandemic. Programming moved to virtual environments through online certificate programs, virtual field days, podcasts, WebEx meetings, and YouTube videos. Our educators created and released 318 new videos on YouTube in 2020. These videos reached 305,200 people and had 39,501 viewers that watched 1,200 hours of Extension instruction.

Programs delivered by Extension reach individuals, communities, and businesses in each of the 169 municipalities across the state (see map on last page). The By the Numbers 2020 highlights some of our key impacts from these initiatives.

Healing and Empowerment Through a Connection with a Horse

A group of young Black men confidently guide their horses through the streets of Hartford’s North End. They smile and wave to friends and residents as they ride through the neighborhood. But this isn’t a chance encounter. They are members of the Junior Mounted Patrol Unit at Ebony Horsewomen, Incorporated, a non-profit equestrian and therapeutic organization located within Keney Park. These young men are a familiar site on the trails that wind through the 693-acre park. They report trail hazards to the Keney Park Sustainability committee, help with trail maintenance, and permanently mark trails and provide hospitality for visitors to the park on their weekly Sunday patrols.

Ebony Horsewomen and the myriad of programs they offer is a unifying figure in the North End and has been for over 36-years. Ebony Horsewomen is well-known for their youth programs, but the services they provide extend to a wider population and address mental health issues across all ages through their certified Equine Assisted Psychotherapy services.

Hartford’s North End is known as one of the toughest neighborhoods in a city that is constantly ranked as one of the most dangerous cities in Connecticut (WTNH, 2020). Growing up as a Black youth in Hartford can be stressful, challenging, and dangerous, says Patricia “Pat” Kelly, the founder and CEO of Ebony Horsewomen. The number of homicides in Hartford per year is above average and Black men are a disproportionate number of the victims (Perloe, 2020). Black girls and women face their own challenges. Ebony Horsewomen provides a place of connection, a safe place to learn, a home, a family, and guidance during the critical early years for youth.

The Ebony Horsewomen programs become a catalyst for participants and help them find their voice, their path, and reach their full potential. The impact of Ebony Horsewomen’s programs is larger than the number of youths served, or hours of programming provided. It’s about the individual lives that have transcended the circumstances that they were born into to achieve success.

“There are so many intricacies to what we do,” Pat says. “We are a herd here. When we all come together people understand there is a level of responsibility. It’s about training our participants to handle the situations they’re going to encounter in the rest of their lives.”

The Healing Power of Horses

A happy boy riding a horse that another boy is leading
Photo courtesy of Ebony Horsewomen

Equine therapy is a widely accepted form of therapy. Youth and adults can work through their trauma in a safe place during equine therapy. The format allows the individual to open up on their own terms. A licensed clinical therapist works with participants, and sessions are covered by health insurance providers.

“Most of the clients at Ebony Horsewomen are people of color,” Pat says. “To better connect with the audiences that we serve, all of the therapists at Ebony Horsewomen are Black and Brown. It’s easier for a Black or Brown therapist to provide therapy to a white client than the reverse.”

There is a lot of growth and healing for participants through the equine therapy practice. During a session they may go for a walk in the park or brush a horse. The session is based on whatever works for the participant. It helps them open up to the therapist and talk through the issues they’re having. Equine therapy is a healing process so the participant can meet the challenges of the society that they live in.

“The horse becomes the instructor and our staff serve as guides. The horse is the master teacher,” Pat says. “Some of these are young men that could be dead, but the horses have provided them a path and made an impact. Equine therapy changes how the participant manages and approaches society. It is the horse that offers that healing. When they walk out of here, they still have to worry about being targeted but their mindset isn’t reactionary. They have learned to manage an 1,100-pound horse that’s misbehaving. Later, if they’re stopped by a police officer, they know how to handle the situation from a calm mindset.”

There are a lot of new families and individuals participating in the equine therapy sessions now, especially during COVID. The sessions at Ebony Horsewomen all adhere to social distancing guidelines. A recent study from the National 4-H Council found that 81% of teens cite mental health as a significant issue, and COVID is intensifying the issue (Harris Insights & Analytics, 2020). Youth often struggle in talk-therapy. Equine therapy works for them. Some participants can attend therapy as much as two or three times per week. Veterans and first responders also participate in the equine therapy programs at Ebony Horsewomen. Another course was offered to the Hartford Police.

“Mental health is the bottom line of what we do – it’s one of the greater challenges these kids have living in America as a Black person,” Pat says. “We have three boys that are old enough to get their drivers’ licenses now. It’s a rite of passage for young people but it scares me to death. Now, I’m not just worrying about them getting home safe, but about them driving while Black. That daily stress is layer after layer after layer.”

Positive Youth Development

A girl on a bay horse smiling and holding up a blue first place ribbon at a horse show
Photo courtesy of Ebony Horsewomen, Inc.

Addressing those daily stress levels is one of the focus points of the youth-oriented programs that Ebony Horsewomen offers. Some youth in their programs would never be in trouble but they want to experience equestrianism. Ebony Horsewomen offers something for everyone, and all participants and horses are treated as individuals.

Positive youth development is a cornerstone of all programming. They offer mentoring, financial, and life skills. Youth opportunities include the Junior Mounted Patrol Unit, the Young Ladies Dressage Team, the Saturday Saddle and 4-H Club, the Extended Day Program, and the Summer Day Camp. Most youth participants are from Hartford, although some are from Bloomfield and Windsor. There are 15 to 20 youth participating in each program. The numbers are being kept lower during COVID but will increase again when its safe. Summer Day Camp serves between 80 and 100 youth each year.

“4-H Positive Youth Development is built upon the essential elements of belonging, independence, mastery and generosity. Ebony Horsewomen programs provides youth the opportunity to be a part of a community, demonstrate decision making through independent thinking, master experiential hands-on tasks and to demonstrate generosity in caring for animals as well as their peers,” says Jen Cushman, Hartford County 4-H Extension Educator.

Ebony Horsewomen has programs and partnerships with other members of the community as well. The Milner Elementary School had an afterschool program three days per week before the pandemic. Students learned safety and life skills and worked with the horses. This program transitioned to a virtual environment when COVID started with a Friday riding club that follows social distancing guidelines. A kindergartener class comes every Tuesday for small animal and agriculture activities. Partnerships exist with other agencies and organizations throughout the greater Hartford area.

“Many youths that participate have been through traumatic experiences and being at Ebony Horsewomen gives them a sense of hope and belonging,” Chaz Carroll says. He is the mentor for the Junior Mounted Patrol and the facilities manager. “They are a part of something that is empowering.”

Youth are also forming bonds with the staff and their fellow participants. “It’s amazing to see the connection kids can make with each other when they’re given a chance,” Pat says. “They’re learning about life and the differences of people regardless of their color or what the media says they are. It’s more than just life skills.”

Ebony Horsewomen participants have longevity with the program. For example, two recent high school graduates have been participating in programs since they were six years old. Chaz is an alumnus of the program. Dominique Bourgeois started as a program participant and is the director of programs now; she’s been working for Ebony Horsewomen for 18 years.

A Catalyst for Change

Program participants are a testament to the impact of the Ebony Horsewomen programs. Having a place to belong and a community that becomes a family is the catalyst for change for the youth and adults that participate in programs.

One student started with Ebony Horsewomen by stopping to visit daily. He hadn’t visited in a while when Pat received a phone call from the local psychiatric hospital that one of her students was requesting to see her. She didn’t have any missing students but went to the hospital. The young boy that had been stopping to visit the horses had attempted suicide and was there. Pat continued visiting him. He was in the hospital for a long time. They broke both of his hips trying to restrain him during an episode. When he finally got out of the hospital, he came to the barn every day.

“Chance, one of our horses, saved that boy’s life,” Pat says. “He received a full scholarship including housing, to the Cornell University Farrier Program. He was scared to go, but we pushed him. He didn’t think he was smart enough. He excelled there. Now he shoes horses up and down the East Coast. It’s about more than a youth program – there are so many layers to what we do here.”

Many of the youth refer to Pat as Mom, and her husband as Dad or Pop. Some youth are looking for a connection. Some have deteriorating thoughts about themselves and the horses tell those youth that, no, they are pretty smart. Some kids find their voice at Ebony Horsewomen. Others learn to better control their mouth. Each youth is treated as an individual and receives the support they need to reach their full potential.

Jen Cushman, Hartford County 4-H Extension Educator notes that the 4-H Study of Positive Youth Development (2013) concludes that “Effective youth development programs . . . are . . . focusing on three important areas: positive and sustained relationships between youth and adults; activities that build important life skills; opportunities for youth to use these skills as participants and leaders in valued community activities” (Lerner, Lerner, & Colleagues, 2013, p.3). Ebony Horsewomen’s programs accomplish all three of these goals.

“The education system is an atmosphere of testing and evaluation, it’s not about critical thinking, it’s about data collection,” Pat says. “Kids come out not developing their minds and we’re changing that here. We have kids that have graduated from Harvard University, attending on full scholarship, Howard University, Boston University, to mention a few, and many Black historical colleges, finding their voice and pushing through to their dream to their involvement with the horses.”

LaShawnda Phillips

LaShawnda and a horse
LaShawnda Phillips with Handsome, a horse at Ebony Horsewomen, Inc. in Hartford.

One example of how the program helps youth achieve their dreams is LaShawnda Phillips. She started as a youth program participant with Ebony Horsewomen. “I took a stroll one day and found this place,” she says. “I never imagined that I would be learning about horses. I didn’t know I would have a connection with a horse. This place means the world to me.”

She has grown from a program participant to an associate riding instructor for the Saturday Saddle Club, the Ladies Dressage Team, and an equine and camp specialist. LaShawnda is currently a senior at UConn, and using the remote learning option during the pandemic. She’s an Animal Science major, and had opportunities to work with Dr. Jenifer Nadeau, the UConn Equine Extension Specialist. LaShawnda plans to continue teaching horsemanship and serving as a riding instructor after graduation. She’s also working on her equine psychotherapy certification as a Horse Specialist.

“LaShawnda has really grown in her time at UConn and has learned how to overcome any difficulties,” Jenifer says. “She is a wonderful person with a bright future ahead of her and has good horse sense and people sense.” LaShawnda and others from Ebony Horsewomen participate in the UConn Riding Camp Instructor Horsemanship Safety Camp and the annual Connecticut Horse Symposium hosted by the UConn Equine Extension program.

At UConn, LaShawnda is a member of the Western Team, an extra-curricular activity offered by the Department of Animal Science. “It’s my favorite part about school. I was the shy one, but Ebony Horsewomen and the UConn Western Team pushed me out of my comfort zone. I also love my teachers; they’ve all helped me a lot.”

“LaShawnda is one of the best examples of how a horse can heal, and she’s also a testament to Domonique and her work with the program and youth,” Pat says. “Dominique guided LaShawnda through high school and towards UConn, and LaShawnda loves UConn. She can’t wait to get back there. She comes here and shares what she’s learned. She’s training her favorite horse, to drive. I have not seen a child so in love with a school and get so much out of it.”

Programs and services offered by Ebony Horsewomen are not readily available. Their 36-year history is full of examples of transformational life experiences through connections with horses. The staff and volunteers at Ebony Horsewomen set strategic goals for continuous improvement, and to serve more of the population. Funding and resources are a challenge that they creatively address with support through grants and donations to the program.

“Our goal is for Ebony Horsewomen to become the premier equine assisted mental health facility in the country,” Pat concludes. “But there are so many other things we’re doing because there is a need in other places too. We are addressing a lot of areas to develop well-rounded citizens.”

Learn more about Ebony Horsewomen and how you can support their programs at https://www.ebonyhorsewomen.us/.

Article by Stacey Stearns

 

References

Harris Insights & Analytics, LLC. (2020). Teen Mental Health. National 4-H Council. Available at: https://4-h.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/4-H-Mental-Health-Report-6.1.20-FINAL.pdf

Lerner, R., Lerner, J., and Colleagues. (December, 2013). The Positive Development of Youth: Comprehensive Findings from the 4-H Study of Positive Youth Development. National 4-H Council; Tufts University. Institute for Applied Research in Youth Developmenthttps://4-h.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/4-H-Study-of-Positive-Youth-Development-Full-Report.pdf

National Institute of Food and Agriculture. (2011). Essential Elements of 4-H. https://nifa.usda.gov/sites/default/files/resource/Essential%20Elements%20of%204-H%20v.2011.pdf

Perloe, J. (2020, February 26). CT must act to reduce the number of gun deaths among black men. CT Mirror. Available at: https://ctmirror.org/category/ct-viewpoints/ct-must-act-to-reduce-the-number-of-gun-deaths-among-black-men/

WTNH News. (2020, February 4). Hartford is the most dangerous city in Connecticut, study finds. WTNH News. Available at: https://www.wtnh.com/news/connecticut/hartford-is-the-most-dangerous-city-in-connecticut-study-finds/