Virginia 4-H honored four of its most outstanding members at a virtual awards ceremony in early 2022. The 4-H Youth in Action program recognizes four confident young leaders with diverse backgrounds and unique perspectives in the main areas of the 4-H pillars: agriculture, active citizenship, healthy living and STEM.
Andrea Farag received the Civic Engagement Award; Brayden Jones received the agriculture award; Eleni Kasianides received the prize for a healthy life; and Sophia Crowder received the award for STEM. Additionally, Farag has been selected as a recipient of the Global Youth in Action Award and will receive additional opportunities to be a spokesperson for Virginia 4-H.
“The Youth in Action winners showcase the best of Virginia 4-H and embody what 4-H brings out in all Virginia youth as they chart their own paths and success,” said Jeremy Johnson, head of Virginia State 4-H.
Each of the four winners received a $500 mini-grant to develop an important community project, recognition at an official awards ceremony, a full scholarship to attend the Virginia State 4-H Convention in Blacksburg, an opportunity to be featured as the Virginia 4-H Youth Spokesperson for their pillar, and support and mentorship in applying for the 2022 National 4-H Youth Leadership Awards.
“These experiences have made me an exceptional young leader within Virginia 4-H and my community as a whole,” said Farag.
Farag, a Chesterfield County resident, saw her experience with Virginia 4-H evolve quickly after attending Teen Summit 2019, where she discovered her 4-H passion: teen empowerment.
She pushed for more events and opportunities planned and shaped by young people for young people. She has seen this model work through teen-adult partnerships and has worked to make this model – with some minor adjustments – all to make Virginia 4-H better. An example of Farag’s work is the evolution of the Virginia 4-H Teen Summit. What started as an adult-led initiative is now led by a team of selected young people.
“These experiences have made me an exceptional young leader within Virginia 4-H and my community as a whole,” said Farag. “4-H has impacted so many different aspects of my life. I have made significant improvements in my personal life through goal setting, professional skills as an entrepreneur, and an educational work ethic as a student. I learned to be persistent, gain confidence, take the initiative to lead, and recognize when I need to ask my team for help.
Farag has been involved in 4-H for a decade.
“I wasn’t always confident of finding my place in the world where I felt I could thrive because of my challenges. 4-H always accepted me for who I am. I discovered talents and strength through the 4-H program,” Jones said.
Jones, a six-year-old 4-Her from Fluvanna County, said 4-H helped him develop his confidence in public speaking despite the many challenges he faced as a child. Jones was diagnosed with mild ataxic cerebral palsy, sensorineural hearing loss and a vision disorder called Duane syndrome.
“Navigating the world has always been a challenge for me,” Jones said. “I wasn’t always confident of finding my place in the world where I felt I could thrive because of my challenges. 4-H always accepted me for who I am. I discovered talents and strengths through the 4-H program by serving others, speaking out about issues I am passionate about, and enjoying photography. This could lead to careers in public service and related fields, which I will explore as I get older. Through 4-H, I have learned that I have a heart of service and would like to take opportunities to speak more at events like this to help inspire others to overcome challenges related to disabilities.
As a 4-H horse ambassador, Jones spoke at Sprouts Therapeutic Riding Center in Northern Virginia about overcoming personal challenges. Jones also talked about how 4-H has helped him — and how it could help spectators, too.
“It was obvious they were very accepting of us and were intrigued by the opportunities we talked about in the 4-H program,” Jones said. “Given all that I have had to overcome with my own disabilities, it is important for me to help others with disabilities. I want to inspire them to join 4-H, empower them not to be held back by their own challenges.
“Without 4-H, I wouldn’t have had the courage or the means to develop this project,” said Kasianides.
Kasianides, a Loudon County resident, has used her passion for mental health to improve the mental well-being of seniors.
During a conversation with her grandmother in 2020, Kasianides, a seven-year-old 4-Her, heard how sad she was to have been isolated during a pandemic. Kasianides wanted to do something about it – but not just for his grandmother. She wanted to help others in her area.
Kasianides obtained the numbers and addresses of assisted living facilities near her home and asked them if they wanted to participate in a program where young people sent cards to residents. After a resounding “yes” from various places, Kasianides assembled his 4-H club, which was active virtually, and rallied the troops.
“The mental health of older people is not often talked about or thought about,” Kasianides said. “I want to focus more on bringing attention to this because these people were the backbone of our community. A card can lift someone’s spirits and be remembered for a long time. Without 4-H, I wouldn’t have had the courage or the means to grow this project.
Since the program began, Kasianides and his fellow 4-Hers have sent out more than 500 cards to nine states and hope to include more 4-H clubs in the near future.
Crowder, a four-year-old 4-Her from Mecklenburg County, joined 4-H in eighth grade as a TechChangermaker, a 4-H program that promoted computer literacy among teens trying to make a difference within their communities.
“This program taught me a lot, not only about the technical aspects of computing and technology, but more importantly, the values of leadership, collaboration and advocacy,” Crowder said. “As one of the few girls involved in the 4-H TechChangemakers program, I felt compelled to address the lack of participation and encouragement for young girls to feel inspired and empowered to participate in STEM programs. “
Crowder has incorporated the concepts, skills, and values learned from her 4-H journey to use as a foundation to build and support her community initiatives of ITgirls, a girl empowerment initiative encouraging girls in grades 6-12 year pursuing non-traditional career paths, such as those in information technology and STEM, and STEMSQUAD, an outreach educational program designed to foster early collaborations between boys and girls in grades K-8 through fun and engaging STEM experiences.
“I realized early on that there was a lack of participation and interest among girls in STEM learning, coupled with the reality of gender inequality and lack of education programs. empowerment, especially in rural areas like Southside Virginia – my community,” Crowder said. “It was this realization that drove me to embrace changes aimed at providing more communal opportunities to girls and boys in productive collaborations using STEM, because I believe STEM has a profound impact on closing the gender gap and shaping our future.”