Virginia 4-H honored four of its most outstanding members at recent the Evening with 4-H ceremony and celebration.
The 4?H Youth in Action Program recognizes four confident young leaders with diverse backgrounds and unique perspectives in 4-H core pillar areas: agriculture, civic engagement, healthy living, and STEM.
Alice Milton received the award for healthy living; Kelli Garrett received the award for agriculture; Jack Woodard received the award for STEM; and Nikhita Saravanan received the award for civic engagement. Additionally, Milton was selected as the Overall Youth in Action Award winner and will receive additional opportunities to be a spokesperson for Virginia 4-H.
“Each of these youth has done tremendous things for their communities and for 4-H,” said Jeremy Johnson, Virginia’s state 4-H leader. “These awards are a way for us to recognize how they have gone above and beyond in their actions. Each of these outstanding youth showcases the best of Virginia 4-H and what 4-H can do to help the next generation of leaders reach their potential.”
Each of the four winners received a $500 mini-grant to develop a significant community project, recognition at a formal award ceremony, a full scholarship to attend the Virginia State 4-H Congress in Blacksburg, an opportunity to be featured as the Virginia 4-H youth pillar spokesperson, and support and mentorship to apply for the 2022 National 4-H Youth Leadership Awards.
Milton, of Bedford, has been a member of Virginia 4-H for eight years. During that time, 4-H changed her life by shaping her into a compassionate leader.
“As a reserved individual, I found it difficult to voice my opinion and would lose myself in the opinions of others,” Milton said. “4-H taught me why youth leadership is so important and shaped me into a vocal leader. Without 4-H, I never would have found my passion for youth advocacy and mental health awareness.”
The Virginia 4-H Teen Summit is an event that Milton has been involved with since 2020 and that taught her about youth advocacy as well as mental health awareness.
“I brought this back to my community and began a youth-led mental health awareness video campaign at my school,” Milton said. “Not only did this inspire me and my peers, but it also assisted in showing students that they are worthy. As a leader, I hope to inspire and motivate others to cultivate positive change within their club, community, country, and world.”
Over the next year, Milton plans on advocating for healthy living by focusing on mental health.
“I believe there is substantial intersectionality between mental health and many issues facing America today,” she said. “By understanding mental health as well as its significance, steps can be taken to disestablish the stigma surrounding it. Mental health awareness and education help to provide a holistic view of healthy living, which is crucial to the development of youth. I plan to continue my advocacy by expanding mental health awareness within my locality, as well as the commonwealth.”
Garrett, a 12-year 4-H’er from Washington County, said 4-H helped her grow her character, leadership, and passion for agriculture.
“Coming from an agriculture background, my father highly encouraged me to become a member of 4-H in order to gain more knowledge about the rural area I live in,” she said. “Having to overcome the simple obstacles that brought me to fear in the comfortable 4-H environment at a young age only manufactured a strong individual that is now prepared to tackle any challenges that would be encountered in the real world.”
As part of her work, Garrett chose to educate her community about the farm-to-table process by creating an educational video and preparing a speech to complement it.
“The utilization of my video continued when I presented it to my FFA chapter, school 4-H club, local middle school FFA chapter, my community’s Kiwanis Club, and when I was a keynote speaker at a Washington County Farm Bureau meeting,” Garrett said. “Other outlets that I have extended my knowledge of agriculture include a news interview, radio interview, podcast, social media, and teaching a class about animal science to youth.”
Throughout the upcoming year, Garrett will advocate for agriculture through various methods of public speaking and published articles across the state.
Woodard, a resident of Fauquier County and a four-year 4-H’er, found a love of robotics through Virginia 4-H. He honed his leadership skills as the president of his robotics club and has participated in multiple public speaking competitions.
He used his motivations from Virginia 4-H to create a computer club in his community.
“I assembled enough interested 4-H’ers to start this club and we held our first meeting in September, when we elected officers,” he said. “Our service project is going to be volunteering with Computers in Education, a local charity that recycles school laptops for donations to developing countries.”
Over the next year, Woodard will advocate for STEM by advertising STEM opportunities for young people in Fauquier County through 4H and existing volunteer opportunities.
“There are lots of ways for young people to get involved in STEM and learn about it,” Woodard said. “I want to publicize the opportunities.”
Saravanan, a seven-year 4-H’er from Henrico County, had her life changed from her Virginia 4-H journey. Her time in 4-H instilled essential life skills such as leadership, confidence, and the ability to empathize with others.
“I have always strived to bring change in my community and help others through my skills,” Saravanan said. “4-H has been that very outlet to help both my inner growth and my community’s growth.”
The Virginia Teen Summit, she said, was one event in particular that helped strengthen her leadership skills and showed her how to inspire others and improve the community in which you live.
In 2020, Saravanan and her sister co-founded 4 Art 2 Heart, a nonprofit group, in an effort to combine their passion for art and helping others to fundraise for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
“Due to the pandemic, the annual MS walk was canceled, and this was a key event for gaining funds,” Saravanan said. “We began teaching free, online art classes for all ages across the country, and we also used the classes to bring awareness of multiple sclerosis, and we encouraged our participants to donate and help the cause.”
In 2022, they resumed their art classes, but now with a new purpose.
“We realized that we needed to spread awareness about stress and directly help communities. After developing the idea for almost two years, we received the Projects for Peace grant of $10,000, and we used it to create art nooks across Virginia,” Saravanan said.
These art nooks have been installed in three areas across Virginia and they hold several art supplies including sketchbook paper, pencils, markers, crayons, colored pencils, and stencils, free for public usage.
“We wanted to create a permanent method of stress relief and simultaneously allow others to explore and express themselves without any socio-economic barriers,” Saravanan said. “My sister and I organized these art classes and the implementation and process of the Art Nooks. We also partnered with and received immense support from Henrico 4-H, VCE [Virginia Cooperative Extension], and the Department of Henrico County Department of Recreation and Parks.”
Over the next year, Saravanan plans on advocating for civic engagement through her non-profit group 4 Art 2 Heart and by hosting events centered around the art nooks for the public.