youth development

Tackling Food & Justice, Youth Style!

youth food justice zoom event powerpoint and participantsOn Wednesday, August 18th, The CT Farm to School Collaborative partnered with The CT Youth Food Program Alliance to host a virtual event, for youth, by youth!

The virtual event included a career panel, and mini-workshops, that were hosted by the following Youth MCs, Sayaada Arouna of Grow Hartford Youth Program, Melyssa Cristino of Grow Windham, and FoodCorps CT Alumni, Ms.Vetiveah Harrsion.

Thank you to our CT Farm to School Youth Planning Committee Interns, Darlenne Cazarin, Common Ground High School Alum, Treyvion Taylor of Nonprofit Accountability Group, Fatima Santos of Stamford Public Schools, and adult lead planner, Ally Staab FoodCorps CT Alumni.

This event was created with the intention to expand opportunities for youth in CT farm to school.  What better way than to engage youth in educationally fun workshops related to nutrition, food justice, careers, and farm life. Local CT community leaders were our workshop facilitators and career panelists.

At the end of the event, students were sent a Certificate of Contribution, and Grow Kits from UConn Extension’s Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP). Students also were invited to become youth participants in UConn’s EFNEP Program.

Job Opening: Assistant/Associate Cooperative Extension Educator Urban 4-H

banner of Extension programs

Job Opening: Assistant/Associate Cooperative Extension Educator Urban 4-H

UConn Extension is seeking applicants for a full-time (11-month), non-tenure track Assistant/Associate Extension Educator, primarily based at the Fairfield County Extension Office in Bethel, CT. Extension Educators are community-based faculty who make a difference in communities by connecting community needs with university resources. Position level/rank will be commensurate with experience working with Extension. The successful candidate shall create an active 4-H youth development program with a focus on STEM, food, and agricultural literacy.

More information and application instructions are available at s.uconn.edu/urban4-hposition

#jobs #uconn #youthdevelopment #4h #agriculture #food

Dr. Larry Pennington: 23 Years of Volunteering to the UConn 4-H Program

Volunteers are the backbone of the UConn 4-H program and are who keep the program vibrant. “Volunteer helps grow true leaders” Dr. Larry Penington of the First Town Veterinary Science 4-H Club of Hartford County 4-H has volunteered 23 years of service to this program. An interview was conducted with him and below are his responses… 

Emily Syme: How did you learn about this Extension volunteer program? 

Larry PenningtonDr. Larry Pennington: I have been familiar with the extension program and 4-H dating back to my youth in the early 60’s. I grew up as a 4-Her and at age 8, I even had a grand champion pig at my first county fair in Ohio. I was never lucky enough to pull that off again, but I was so appreciative of the wonderful learning experiences like that as a youngster. I have 4-H to thank for help shaping me ever since and to evolve into the person that I am today. Fast forward to 1998, I was introduced to UConn 4-H and the UConn Extension system for the first time. I had been a small animal practicing veterinarian in Windsor, and was challenged by a friend to start up a veterinary science 4-H club and introduce young people to what my profession had to offer. This was an opportunity to give back to the community after I received so much while growing up. Hence, “The First Town Veterinary Science 4-H Club“ got its start that year. We have flourished every year since; something that’s been one of the most fulfilling things I have accomplished in my life.

ES: What do you do in your role as an Extension volunteer?

LP: As a volunteer, I am all of the following: a leader, a teacher, a coordinator, and best of all, a very proud advisor to many young people. As a volunteer I have put in countless hours with my organization to help it grow and become the educational tool that it is.

ES: Why do you volunteer your time to this Extension program? 

LP: I am often asked that question on why I do it. My emphatic response is always that I do it “for the kids!” Being a parent myself, they really do matter, and being able to guide them and to show them the way, is so gratifying and heartwarming. Just to know that I played a small role in their lives as they grew up, is so comforting and gives me great pride.

ES: How does volunteering with the Extension program benefit you? 

LP: Volunteering through 4-H has allowed me to maintain a connection with young people and to stay relevant. It keeps me young and allows me to be a kid amongst kids, like Peter Pan who never wanted to grow up. At my age, 4-H has been my fountain of youth, where I can make a difference with young people. I hope that their parents see me as a good role model, and in setting a good example of what a warm and caring veterinarian should be.

ES: How do you feel like your volunteer work is making an impact? 

LP: I have always tried to make a positive impact on kid’s lives. I show them through their love for their pets in how to be caring and compassionate to all. We have performed many community service projects over the years and have been impactful to senior citizens in nursing homes through our pets, provided low cost Rabies Vaccination Clinics locally, and partnered with Fidelco  Guide Dogs. What better way to give back to the community!

ES: What is your favorite memory with this Extension program?

LP: My favorite memory in 4-H was our club’s involvement in the Dog Walk in Windsor at an area park. Over a seven year stretch starting 20 years ago and with the help of the surrounding community, our club orchestrated an annual event that brought together many dog lovers. The kids “lived it, ran it and owned it”, and got to see two rescue dogs go into service work with our most famous being, Chance. He was a highly trained Golden Retriever that assisted a local lady that was wheelchair bound. Our club got a lot of wonderful media coverage with the success of our Dog Walk and Chance. More importantly, it’s what the kids took away from that experience.

ES: Do you have any advice for new and current Extension volunteers?

LP: My advice to anyone wishing to volunteer is to follow your heart. Take a leap of faith and get involved with our youth through 4-H. After all, they are our future!

It’s been said that the more we give, the happier we feel. Volunteering increases self-confidence. You are doing good for others and the community, which provides a natural sense of accomplishment. Your role as a volunteer can give you a sense of pride and identity, as it has with me.

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/

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. Learn more about our volunteer programs at s.uconn.edu/volunteers.

Interview edited for space and clarity.

Article by Emily Syme

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.

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.

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/

UConn 4-H Virtual Escape Rooms Keep Youth Engaged

4-H Escape Room banner photoEscape rooms have gained popularity with youth and adults worldwide as small groups work together to find clues, solve puzzles, and other tasks that allow them to escape from a room. Depending on the activity, there can be one or more rooms, and there is usually a time limit. Once the team has completed the task for each room there is a prize – in some cases the prize is just that they have escaped.

UConn 4-H, the youth development program of Extension in the College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources, first introduced escape rooms in 2019 at the Middlesex County 4-H skill-a-thon event for youth ages 7-19. There were puzzles and a series of six treasure chests. The youth needed to unlock all six to get a prize. The escape room event was extremely popular and a fun way for youth to build teamwork skills and test their 4-H knowledge. Popularity was so high that parents and adult volunteers requested an opportunity to play and the entire experience was repeated with a new theme and puzzles at the same event in 2020.

When COVID-19 cancelled all in-person events, Marc Cournoyer, a member of the UConn 4-H team and designer of the 4-H escape rooms decided to move them to a virtual format to provide youth with an opportunity to continue participation.

“Teachers often use escape rooms as a fun way to teach learning concepts through puzzles,” Cournoyer says. “We created our first virtual escape room for younger 4-H members, primarily ages 7-12 in the summer of 2020, it’s called the Secret Clover Stash. Youth have to help Cris Clover find his way through all the puzzles to unlock doors and collect all the clovers.”

Youth from across Connecticut participated in the Secret Clover Stash. This virtual escape room was created using Google Forms and was basic in its design.

Several states from the northeast have adopted the Secret Clover Stash escape room developed by UConn 4-H and are using it with their youth members. The states are collaborating with UConn 4-H on a Computer Science Pathways grant through Google and National 4-H. Cournoyer shared the original escape room template with 4-H educators from other states.

A second version called “The Secret Clover Quest” is geared towards 4-H members of all ages. It was built in the format of a website through the use of Google Sites with gamification through the use of Google Slides, Docs and Forms. “This version is a much more immersive experience than the original due to the additional puzzle gaming aspects,” Cournoyer says.

“Youth can work as an individual or group to solve these escape room puzzles,” Cournoyer says. “These activities help youth build skills in creative thinking, problem solving and retention of key concepts through the use of gamification. Kids are learning through play.”

Cournoyer is currently submitting a proposal to educate others about escape rooms as a teaching tool this fall at the upcoming National Association of Extension 4-H Youth Development Professionals annual conference. He is also meeting with colleagues interested in learning more about how these escape rooms work and the science behind the design. A future goal is to assemble a team of 4-H educators from around the country to design new escape room experiences that will be hosted on the UConn 4-H Escape website. “It only makes sense to work together to give youth learning opportunities that are also fun and interactive. Since these activities are virtual there is no geographic limitation to who can participate. Therefore, it makes sense to work in collaboration with educators from other states rather than everyone inventing their own unique versions,” Cournoyer says.

All these breakout experiences can be found on the new UConn 4-H Escape website at https://4-h-escape.extension.uconn.edu/. A new breakout activity is added each month. There are three additional breakouts currently under development that will be appearing on the website in the coming months.

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.

Article by Stacey F. Stearns

4-H Volunteer Spotlight – Elaine Brodeur, Litchfield County 4-H Program

Elaine BrodeurThe 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