Tennessee 4-H leaders have met the challenges of 2020 with a focus on creativity and determination.

“This has presented our state program with so many opportunities,” says 4-H Director and State 4-H Program Leader Justin Crowe. “This time during the pandemic is a chance to think outside the box, be creative, and meet every situation brand new rather than follow the precedence.”

When it was determined that the traditional summer programs and events would not be possible in person, quick action by agents and volunteers created new methods for reaching 4-H members.

4-H camp is one example.

“Many counties hosted virtual camps for kids locally or prepared packets for students to use at home,” Crowe says. “All of them had the essential elements of camp: a craft, a wildlife activity, camp songs and educational materials.”

The Tennessee 4-H Centers teamed up to create a unique virtual learning experience for youth across the state called Healthy Livin’ Summer. The students could watch one video per day and participate in the coordinating activity.

“The videos reached approximately 180,500 people each week,” Crowe says. “And more than 650 4-H members received prizes for completing the virtual activities.”

Another innovative change was the creation of Academic Unconference, after the in-person Academic Conference was canceled. Participants no longer had to complete a portfolio in order to participate, which opened the event to more 4-H members. More than 370 Tennessee 4-H’ers participated in the weeklong event – an event that usually only hosts 160 participants.

When Electric Camp was canceled, staff created at-home projects and lessons for students. The first 500 students who participated received a motor kit to put together at home.

4-H Round-up was another event not able to continue as in years past, but the project award winners were recognized through a virtual event in October.

A different type of event that many 4-H members look forward to each summer are livestock shows. Many were not held due to COVID-19 restrictions, but the State Sheep Expo was possible through special precautions.

“We met the situation head-on to make sure we were following every rule,” Crowe says. “At the sheep expo which was held in person, hand sanitizer was available, social distancing was practiced, and masks were required and worn without difficulty.”

Crowe says making the events work provided a moment of normal life for all the students involved.

“Those shows and events throughout the summer were successful, and the young people got some normalcy that they hadn’t gotten in months,” Crowe says. “We were pleased with the outcomes of our livestock shows and adjusted summer events.”

And possibly the best positive of all was the increased reach to more 4-H members, through these innovative changes.

“Overall, we had a higher reach than we would have traditionally,” Crow says. “We were able to reach young people who otherwise would not have had exposure to 4-H.”

– By Hannah Nave Lewis