Our UConn 4-H Litchfield County and UConn 4-H New London County programs continued their grassroots efforts to help local families in need this week. This effort builds upon several dairy donations that have gone to food pantries statewide over the past few months since the pandemic started back in March. Over 144,000 pounds of dairy products have been delivered by our youth and volunteers, including 2,880 half-gallons on Monday, December 21st.
The Bethlehem Busy Stitchers 4-H club is very fortunate to have Elaine Brodeur as their club leader. Elaine’s daughter will tell you that Elaine needs 4-H as an excuse to own eight sewing machines and a stash of fabric and sewing supplies to rival any JOANN store. But Elaine goes on to explain, “I love to sew and share my skills with young people especially since it is not taught in schools anymore.” She joined 4-H at the age of 10 and has maintained her connection with 4-H for the past 65 years. As a youth, her project focus was clothing. She attended 4-H camp for several years at the Litchfield County 4-H Camp (what is now Warren Woods) and Junior Leadership conferences that were held at the UConn Storrs campus.
Elaine adds, “At that time we had county dress reviews and the best senior members were chosen to attend the state dress review. Winners from there went to National 4-H Congress. I was in the state review several times. I never went out of state…the competition was pretty tough then.”
Elaine gets her commitment to 4-H from her mother, Bernice Assard, who passed away in 2008. Bernice became the club leader of the Bethlehem Busy Stitchers back in 1956. During Bernice’s 50 years as club leader hundreds of youth benefitted from her instruction and guidance with many also participating in statewide activities and national trips such as Citizenship Washington Focus and National 4-H Congress. In 2002 Bernice was inducted into the National 4-H Hall of Fame during its inaugural year.
While the club’s projects focus on sewing and home economics, they have always participated in community service projects. In the past the club has sold soup at the Christmastown Festival, marched in the Memorial Day Parade and made hand warmers for the Woodbury Senior Center. The club also made lunches to serve the workers who volunteered to rebuild the local community hall after it burned back in the 1980s. More recently they have sewn and donated over 300 tote bags to a local women’s shelter which in turn fills the bags with much needed supplies for the residents. They have been participating in this project for the past eleven years.
With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the club has been sewing face masks for local nursing homes. This has turned into a major community effort in which the club has donated enormous time and effort in assisting the Caring for Bethlehem organization, a local non-profit charity that provides food and relief assistance to the surrounding community.
Elaine took over leadership of the club from her mother in 2006 and keeps club members busy with a variety of activities. She spends a great deal of time during the summer helping club members get their sewing, craft and cooking projects ready for the 4-H Fair held each year in August. She is also the coordinator of the Textile Arts Contest for 4-H Expressive Arts day and serves on the planning committee for this event.
When asked why she has stayed involved with 4-H for so many years, she replies, “To some extent I feel obligated to carry on my mother’s legacy. 4-H was very important to her. 4-H provides a structure for opportunities to practice many life skills in a low-risk environment like project planning, meeting deadlines, interviewing, public speaking, following instructions, record keeping and teamwork. I could not do it without the help of Jen Woodward my assistant or the help of the member’s parents.”
Article by Nancy Wilhelm, State 4-H Program Coordinator
Meet the UConn 4-H Legends, a soccer playing 4-H club in Danbury, CT that’s been in existence for about three years. This 35-member club, composed of boys and girls, has several projects: sports, nutrition, leadership and community service. Although they do a variety of things, they are at the soccer field 3 times a week, improving their soccer skills and learning teamwork, personal responsibility, goal setting, decision making, and creative problem solving. Leader Anna Loor and her coaches, Julio Buestan and Narcisa Tenezaca lead and facilitate the club.
Until Covid 19 struck, 4-H Legends participated in soccer tournaments every month. Healthy snacks are part of the nutrition education and soccer practice. At monthly Family Nights Out, youth and their families increase their nutrition knowledge while making a group healthy meal for everyone to eat.
As a multi-disciplinary effort of the Fairfield County UConn Extension office, Heather Peracchio, Community Nutrition Educator, registered dietician organized and taught the classes at the Family Nights Out. German Cutz, our former Sustainable Community Educator organized the soccer portion, and Ede Valiquette, 4-H Educator, worked with the adult leaders to support the 4-H club.
As with any 4-H club, community service is a priority. At their monthly business meetings, the club discuses and makes decisions regarding service projects for the year. Although they have done a variety of projects, their “best” one was perhaps conducted this year, “Celebrating our Heroes”. In “Celebrating our Heroes”, Legends soccer coach and chef, Julio Buestan helped the Legends, prepare 150 meals for healthcare workers at Danbury Hospitals during the height of the Covid 19 virus outbreak.
Article by Edith Valiquette, Extension 4-H Educator
Rising unemployment in the pandemic has exacerbated food insecurity for many individuals. In response to our pledge of “hands to larger service,” 4-Hers have joined with members of the Fairfield community to grow produce for local food banks.
As a Fairfield County 4-H senior with interests in natural sciences and community service, I was excited to merge my passions through volunteering at the Fairfield Garden for Food Banks. When I began my first job of leaf removal and planting, I wore my 4-H Fair t-shirt (in addition to a face mask). I soon discovered that the organizer of the project, Sharon Brodeur Pistilli, was a 4-H alumna, formerly of the Bethlehem Busy Stitchers! This connection was no coincidence, as 4-H shapes individuals with a lifelong passion for healthy living and giving back through service.
With Sharon’s energetic leadership, many others have joined the Fairfield Garden for Food Banks Initiative.
Over the past month, the group has planted kale, lettuce, pole beans, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, broccoli, eggplant, squash, radishes, and carrots. Sharon Pistilli organized donations of seedlings and gardening supplies. A Fairfield resident graciously offered her garden space. Over a dozen volunteers have helped with weeding, daily watering, and harvesting while maintaining social distancing guidelines.
On June 24, I had the chance to see the culmination of the group’s hard work, with a delivery of four gallon-size bags of fresh lettuce, three bags of kale, and radishes to Operation Hope in Fairfield. Other recipients will include Semilla Collective in New Haven and nOURish Bridgeport, which provide food to clients either in a Community kitchen or food bank capacity.
Volunteering at the garden has brought community to my life at a time when I would have otherwise felt isolated and disconnected. As I dig into soil and place seeds in the ground, I can reconnect with nature and the world around me. Creating a mound around each squash plant, which 4-H Alumna Sharon Pistilli calls a “dirt-hug,” is an opportunity to give my community a hug: to reach out to insecure families and invest both my hands and heart in larger service.
The Fairfield Garden for Food Banks is an example of how the 4-H Program nourishes the individual and fosters community. 4-Hers of multiple generations have partnered with volunteers and food banks, growing fresh produce to respond to a growing need. While apart, we have come together to maintain a garden, and in doing so, nurture our pledges to one another.
Article by Harper Treschuk, Fairfield County 4-H Member
A volunteer is defined as someone that donates their time to participate in a cause or program. UConn 4-H is the Extension youth development program and has thousands of volunteers across Connecticut that help us provide programming to over 18,000 youth, annually. Since 1970, Carol LeBlanc has been a UConn 4-H Volunteer with the Snoopy’s Pal 4-H Dog Club, located in Suffield.
The Hartford County 4-H program recognized Carol for her 50 years of service on Saturday, November 7th, with a socially distanced presentation in front of the 4-H Club followed by a county-wide virtual recognition ceremony on Sunday, November 8th.
She is deeply committed to implementing the motto of 4-H which is to “Make the Best Better”. Carol continues to adapt her club programming to accommodate all youth, to provide new opportunities for youth to learn and develop their dog skills and self-confidence, as well as to ensure that youth are maximizing and enjoying their 4-H experiences.
“Carol is dedicated to the providing opportunities for 4-H youth to expand their knowledge of dog training and management” says Jennifer Cushman, UConn Extension 4-H Educator in Hartford County. “Carol’s leadership extends beyond the county level to various New England 4-H Programs. She has also served as an adult Advisor to the county 4-H Fair Officers who plan and implement the annual 4-H Fair and as a member of the Hartford County 4-H Advisory Committee.”
“Carol, on behalf of the numerous 4-H youth who have been able to learn from you, their parents and your fellow volunteers, congratulations on your 50 years of service, and thank you,” Cushman says.
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.
Hi! My name is Marlena Takes and I am excited to be an intern with Windham County 4-H and contribute to youth development and STEM programs this summer. I am an upcoming junior at UConn studying Allied Health Sciences and minoring in Spanish. While at UConn, I enjoy volunteering, especially with the Windham Heights After School Program where I tutor and mentor students. This experience has prepared me to create STEM content for 4-Hers virtually this summer. I am involved with the development of activities and videos explaining STEM topics and providing opportunities for students to experiment with them while using resources at home. Some of these activities have been shared with local libraries, including activities relating fairytales to simple machines, and others are available online, including calendars with a task or experiment to complete each day. In my free time, I love spending time outside and gardening, which is something I have been able to incorporate into these summer activities. I am looking forward to sharing my passion for science with others and connecting with 4-H members, staff, and local libraries through the county’s programs this summer!
The 4-H Summer Library program in New London County started seven years ago with a program at the Waterford Library. The program added a few libraries every year. This year 12 libraries in the county are participating.
Pamela Gray, the UConn Extension 4-H Educational Outreach Coordinator for New London County leads the program. Therese Foss, an Extension Public Service Technician; and Sara Tomis, a UConn student and summer intern, also work on the summer library program.
“COVID-19 forced us to create a virtual program instead of offering the program in-person at each library,” Pam says. “While we miss seeing everyone, shifting to a virtual program is allowing us to serve more libraries and impact a larger number of children.”
The theme this summer is Be A 4-H Brainiac. All the activities begin with the letter “B” and include breakouts, blazing bugs, breakfast nails, and buckle up eggs. Towns with libraries participating in the program include Colchester, Franklin, Groton (the library and the sub-base), Jewett City, Lebanon, Ledyard, Norwich, Preston, Sprague, Voluntown, and Waterford.
“The Waterford Public Library is pleased to partner with New London County 4-H again despite challenging times,” librarian Jennifer Smith tells us. “Many families have expressed interest and relief to know their kids can continue to participate in fun library STEM related virtual programming this summer.”
The summer library program lasts for 10-weeks. There are five activity kits and five breakouts, or virtual escape rooms. The activity kits and breakout rooms alternate weeks throughout the program. Each library received 12 kits that they distribute to youth. Waterford and Norwich received 24 kits each since their communities are larger. Children from ages five through 13 are participating at each library. The kits use curriculum from the National 4-H Council and the Junior Master Gardener program.
A parent shared, “The programming that you are offering through public libraries is fantastic. It adds some excitement to our week, and we are using the activities as a jumping off point for other projects, reading and fun. Thank you!”
“My favorite part about working with the libraries is that we bring a resource to them and their community that they don’t have,” Pam says. “As 4-H staff we have a skillset that many libraries don’t, and it’s a great partnership that brings new resources to the library and introduces other audiences to 4-H. We also reach a different community with the library programs than we do with our club-based programs.”
The libraries have found that this year’s virtual program has brought new participants that normally don’t attend programming. Smaller libraries have increased their participation level as well; in the past, they would have six or seven participants in-person, but with a virtual program are able to give out all 12 kits.
“We’ve really had a lot of success with the take-and-make program concept, and this has been an exceptional one that I certainly wouldn’t have been able to put together on my own,” says Frances McGrath of the Trumbull Library in Lebanon. “I’ve got people coming in who normally wouldn’t come to the library, which is how you know you’ve got a winner. This has been great and the flexibility it allows for has been really positive.”
Libraries receive their kits each week. The library then distributes the kits to the children. Drop off and distribution follow social distancing guidelines. Each activity takes about 20 minutes to complete, and youth join the Facebook Live video on the UConn 4-H New London County Facebook page on Wednesday mornings for their instructions.
“The Facebook live session creates a sense of community,” Pam explains. “It opened the program up so that youth participating see how many others are involved. I’m already working with the libraries on a hybrid model for next year so that we can serve as many children as possible. We’re also planning to keep the breakout rooms going once per month during the school year.”
The breakout rooms have three skill levels, easy, medium and hard, giving all ages an appropriate activity. The free Breakout educational app enhances math, science and reasoning skills and is popular with teachers.
“We greatly miss our classes with the 4-H teachers, who are always enthusiastic, well-informed, and engaging with school-aged children,” says Marguerite Rauch of the Subbase MWR Library in Groton. “We highly value all that New London County 4-H brings us and our Military Community via the 4-H Military partnership. The children love their 4-H summer Library programs, and they always fill up fast. This year was no exception. Summertime is when military families typically move, so our summer programming is often the way we meet new families and welcome them to the Library. This is the sixth summer I have worked with 4-H, and they rose to the challenge and created a full summer of activities to keep children busy, having fun, and learning, which is what libraries are all about.”
UConn 4-H is the youth development program of UConn CAHNR Extension. 4-H is a community of over 6 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/.
Article by Stacey Stearns
One of UConn 4-H’s partners is the Sprague Public Library. “I cannot say enough about the programs 4-H offers libraries,” says Elizabeth Bezanson, the Sprague Public Library Director. “The 4-H educators are always extremely personable and well prepared for any number of participants or age group. Activities are engaging for our participants and, particularly in our town, expose kids to science-related concepts they may not otherwise encounter on their own.”
“The Sprague Public Library invested in our own Ozobots and we were obviously excited when Ozobots were part of the 4-H program offering because the staff learned quite a bit about facilitating an Ozobot program.”
Ozobots are tiny robots that incorporate physical and digital aspects to teach youth how to code, and is one of many programs 4-H has to teach science, technology, engineering, and math skills.
“It was a great kickoff to our regular Ozobot programs. I think this speaks to the 4-H curriculum; it is trendy, current, and relatable. From a library standpoint, it is always a blessing to have a quality program that centers around a particular story or book that comes to us fully prepared and ready to go. Partnering with UConn 4-H is a win-win for us!
Article by Pamela Gray
After thirty-three years as an agriscience teacher at Nonnewaug High School in Woodbury, William Davenport has found his way back to his early grounding in 4-H. He began work as assistant extension educator in charge of 4-H programming in Litchfield County in July 2019. Davenport is a graduate of the college, having earned bachelor of science and master of science degrees in animal science, then sixth year in administration and supervision at Southern ConnecticutState University.
“We are pleased to have Bill join the Extension team as an accomplished agriscience educator who brings a wealth of experience in STEM, agricultural literacy and leadership development,” says Bonnie Burr, assistant director of UConn Extension. “Bill will be carrying out programs with the county’s 929 youth ages 5-19 and eighty-nine enrolled/ trained volunteers. He will also be developing and implementing statewide 4-H livestock-related programs.”
Growing up in Litchfield County, Davenport loved being a member of 4-H. He attended UConn with the idea of becoming a 4-H agent. But when the position in his county was filled by a new young agent, it was suggested he consider ag education. He changed his focus and set a new goal.
“Now I’m back to my original plan and I’m very excited to have this second career in my life,” he says. Davenport plans to build the 4-H program and expand the clubs. “I love teaching and have enjoyed working with high school students. As an agriscience teacher, I was heavily involved with FFA, and now I have the opportunity to bring agriculture to younger kids.” One of his goals is to increase after school 4-H programming as a way of introducing additional students to 4-H.
“The program has unlimited potential,” he says. “Particularly for families with young children looking for an activity that is wholesome and educational, while being open and welcoming to all students of any background.”
“The basis of 4-H is teaching the importance of farming and the natural world, but it also includes so many life skills such as public speaking, leadership, communication, self-confidence and community service, as well as STEM programs and many other activities.”
Those life skills will go a long way toward helping students in their careers. To highlight this point, Davenport asked one of his students to speak at a regional FFA advisory meeting.
He says, “These meetings are attended by people in the agricultural industry. An industry expert stood up after this student’s presentation and said that she interviews for hundreds of positions a year and would hire the presenter immediately as she had not observed such poise and confidence in many applicants with advanced degrees. That’s what we teach in 4-H and FFA.”
Davenport would like to see state 4-H and FFA work together. “Think of what we could do collectively to help agricultural literacy and the agricultural industry,” he says.
Davenport grew up on a dairy farm and found 4-H dairy and livestock judging to be a rewarding experience. He plans to revitalize interest in 4-H livestock judging. “I’d like to develop 4-H teams that compete nationally. I’d also be interested in mentoring UConn judging teams.”
As an educator, Davenport has received numerous honors, including 2004 Connecticut State Teacher of the Year, USA Today’s 2005 All-USA Teacher Team, 2004-2005 NAAE Outstanding Agricultural Education Teacher for Region VI and 2005 NAAE Syngenta Advocate for Agricultural Education Teacher Award. He is a member of the Connecticut State Board of Education and the National FFA Alumni and Supporters Council and served on the National FFA board of directors from 2013 to 2016.
Davenport houses twenty registered Ayrshire and Holstein dairy cows at his brother’s dairy farm, near the Connecticut border in Ancram, New York, and five heifers at his family homestead, Toll Gate Farm, in Litchfield. He lives with his wife Jill (Perham), also a UConn animal science graduate, and two daughters, Megan, a junior majoring in animal science and agricultural education at UConn and Allison will be at UConn in fall 2020.
Article by Jason M. Sheldon
Bridging the Gap Between Scientists and Communities
4-H knows talent is everywhere, but opportunity is not. Building youth equity and closing opportunity gaps by connecting youth curriculum, lesson plans, technology and training is the focus of the UConn CAHNR Extension Computer Science (CS) Pathways program.
Computer science and technology are not just transforming jobs and economies in cities, they are equally important to rural communities and within the agriculture sector. UConn 4-H received the 2019-2020 Growing a Computer Science Pathway – Launchers for America’s Youth grant presented by National 4-H Council as part of a $6 million grant from Google.org. 4-H and Google are bringing computer science education to the 4-H system with the goal of creating equitable access to these life-changing skills for kids and teens everywhere. 4-H works wherever the youth are with a focus on rural youth and populations that traditionally have limited access to computer science education.
In Connecticut, whether through a military program developing a lighting system for a henhouse, a small town community club using e-textiles in a sewing project or an urban afterschool program using code to make robots run more efficiently, the 4-H approach is flexible to help students see the range of ways computer science can connect the things they care about. Computer science skills, like analytical thinking, resilience and creativity, are some of the most sought-after skills in today’s job market.
The 4-H Computer Science Pathways Program represents an opportunity for young people of all backgrounds to create, not just consume technology, while also fulfilling a critical workforce need. UConn 4-H brings over 100 years of transformational educational experiences that build successful youth-adult partnerships in our communities. The UConn 4-H Computer Science Pathways Program is using the grant to continue building on our success delivering computer science education to communities in four primary ways:
1. Creating mobile learning libraries and laboratories
Also known as mobile labs, these are self-contained traveling classrooms used to teach new skills and ways of thinking that bring all of our young people access to opportunity and help them innovate. We teach youth technical computer science skills such as coding, and essential life skills including computational thinking, teamwork, and problem solving. The mobile labs have digital and unplugged activities. Digital activities do not require internet access. “Unplugged” activities are used on their own or as part of other programs, including the healthy living program, civic engagement program or STEM programs. Educators and 4-H club leaders receive essential and support training with the mobile labs.
2. Providing comprehensive, statewide, professional development
Teens as Teachers: Teens learn the fundamentals of teaching diverse audiences. These skills benefit many subject areas, not just computer science. Youth-Adult Partnerships: This training teaches the fundamentals of youth-adult partnerships and strategies for success. These partnerships were part of the original design of 4-H programs and are a core value today.
Growing Computer Science Pathways: This face-to-face training teaches the fundamental theories of computer science program delivery and introduces the lesson plans, curriculum and supplies needed.
Growing Computer Science Pathways Digital and Unplugged: Hands-on learning.
Principles for effectively delivering digital and unplugged activities for youth of all ages is provided in this training Unplugged activities teach computational thinking, problem solving and the basics of coding without needing digital technology.
3. Creating and facilitating teen mentoring, teen-led programming and youth-adult partnerships
We teach volunteer and teen training programs. In these workshops participants learn the importance of, and strategies for, giving youth authentic and meaningful engagement opportunities. These opportunities, in programs, and in their communities, help youth find their voice. Youth see that they can exert influence and develop decision-making authority.
4. Leveraging the National 4-H Council’s and Google’s computer science expertise and resources
Community educators receive the skills and resources they need to deliver cutting-edge computer science programming through this collaboration. Youth computer science programming from 4-H fits community’s needs, while fostering leadership, confidence, and life skills.
There is a tremendous need for young people to create technology, not just consume it. By bringing our organizations together, we are combining the reach and expertise of the nation’s largest youth development organization, 4-H, with the power of Google’s computer science educational programs and volunteers.
Visit 4-H.uconn.edu for more information on the Computer Science Pathways Program.
Article by Maryann Fusco-Rollins