COLUMBIA — Martha Newton tearfully referred to herself as a once-shy child from South Carolina’s “Corridor of Shame, as some call it.”

That was before she joined South Carolina 4-H, the growing youth development arm of the Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service.

“I have developed so much confidence through 4-H,” she said, speaking to university leaders, state legislators, 4-H colleagues and others at a luncheon during the recent 4-H Legislative Day at the state capitol. “4-H truly makes the best even better.”

4-H members view a framed S.C. Senate resolution recognizing the national Horse Bowl championship won by 4-H members last year.

4-H members view a framed S.C. Senate resolution recognizing the national Horse Bowl championship won by 4-H members last year.
Image Credit: Scott Miller / Clemson University

Newton’s voice cracked as she thanked her 4-H friends and instructors for their support and informed them she received a full scholarship to study computer science at Clemson.

More than 200 4-H members, volunteers and instructors attended 4-H Legislative Day to learn about state government, but also to show state leaders the impact 4-H has on South Carolina youth like Newton.

“As the largest youth development organization, we have a responsibility. In some counties in South Carolina, 4-H is the only option youth have. It is the only youth development organization in the county,” said Jennifer Sirangelo, president and CEO of the National 4-H Council.

Sirangelo said 4-H is pushing to grow national youth participation beyond the current 6 million.

Jennifer Sirangelo, president and CEO of the National 4-H Council, takes a photo with South Carolina 4-H member Micah Metts.

Jennifer Sirangelo, president and CEO of the National 4-H Council, takes a photo with South Carolina 4-H member Micah Metts.
Image Credit: Scott Miller / Clemson University

“South Carolina is one of the states where I’m seeing a real passion about growing the program,” she said. “We know what a difference 4-H and other youth development organizations can have on a young person.”

More than 92,000 youth participated in 4-H programs across South Carolina last year, an increase of nearly 9.5 percent according to new data, said Pam Ardern, state 4-H program leader. Clemson Extension is expanding 4-H programming and adding 4-H agents throughout the state as part of its newly adopted five-year strategic plan, so youth participation is expected to increase in coming years, as well, she said. Programs cover animal science, agriculture, science, engineering, natural resources, healthy living, leadership and much more.

At 4-H Legislative Day, students met with numerous state legislators, attended a House Committee budget hearing and met with Josh Baker, budget and policy director for Gov. Nikki Haley.

Sen. Kevin Bryant of Anderson meets with South Carolina 4-H members during 4-H Legislative Day.

Sen. Kevin Bryant of Anderson meets with South Carolina 4-H members during 4-H Legislative Day.
Image Credit: Scott Miller / Clemson University

Members of the House and Senate recognized 4-H attendees during legislative session, and both chambers adopted resolutions to recognize the 4-H team that won a national title in the Horse Bowl at the Eastern National 4-H Horse Roundup November in Louisville, Kentucky.

David Evans of Marlboro County said the 4-H Legislative Day offered him his first opportunity to visit the state capitol.

Like Evans and Newton, Carey Herndon of Bamberg said 4-H has helped her become more confident and more active.

“I have learned so much about myself,” she said. “I know I can help people. I know I have skills that other people don’t know they have.”

South Carolina 4-H Teen Council President Emma McDaniel said she wished state leaders could hear the stories of every 4-H member, how the program has shaped them as engaged students and future leaders.

Now 17, McDaniel started a fundraiser called What Not to Spend in Spartanburg when she was 12, raising $8,000 for abused children. McDaniel wrapped up her fifth event this year, raising $18,000, part of which will help under-privileged young people attend 4-H summer camps.

“4-H just changes peoples’ lives,” she said.

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