Youth in Action Awards Honor Outstanding Virginia 4-H Members

Virginia 4-H honored four of its most outstanding members at the recent 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.

Emma Lloyd of Round Hill, Virginia, received the award for healthy living; Elise Dearstyne of Roanoke, Virginia, received the award for civic engagement; Aditi Pesarakayala of Ashburn, Virginia, received the award for STEM; and Treyvion Spruill of Greensville, Virginia, received the award for agriculture. Additionally, Emma Lloyd was selected the Overall Youth in Action Award winner and will receive additional opportunities to be a spokesperson for 4-H.

The 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 on Virginia Tech’s Blacksburg campus, an opportunity to be featured as the Virginia 4-H youth spokesperson for their pillar, and support and mentorship to apply for the 2024 National 4-H Youth Leadership Awards.

“It is an honor to celebrate these four students as leaders and role models who are making a difference in their communities,” said Jeremy Johnson, associate director and state 4-H leader for Virginia Cooperative Extension. “Emma, Elise, Aditi, and Treyvion represent the best of 4-H. The Youth in Action Awards serve not only as a tribute to their outstanding achievements but also as a testament to the profound impact that 4-H has in shaping future generations of caring, confident leaders.”

Virginia 4-H is a youth development education program of Virginia Cooperative Extension. More than 192,000 Virginia 4-H members are developing leadership, citizenship, and a vast array of life skills that will benefit them for the rest of their lives. Through school-based, after-school, and community clubs as well as camp settings, 4-H members pledge to build a better community, country, and world.

Emma Lloyd, Overall Youth in Action Award and Healthy Living Award

When Lloyd started her 4-H journey seven years ago, she was “terrified” of speaking in front of people.

“As I started to participate in 4-H opportunities like Presentation and Table Setting and Share the Fun [talent] competitions, I overcame my fears and developed my confidence and skills in public speaking,” she said. “Now I look forward to opportunities to speak in public.”

Today, she’s using her voice to make a difference in her community. A passionate “outdoors person,” Lloyd led an effort to install signs identifying waterways along the 45-mile bike trail through Washington and Old Dominion Railroad Regional Park in Loudoun County.

“I know that my stream-crossing signs will be a long-lasting way to help connect people to local streams and inspire the protection and stewardship of these important natural resources,” she said.

A dedicated member of the community service-oriented Soaring Arrows 4-H club, Lloyd gave more than 170 hours last year to activities such as sorting clothes for foster children, making cards for veterans, and volunteering at the local library, food pantry, and Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy. She is a member of the 4-H All Stars, an honors service organization, and was a delegate and youth entertainer for the 2023 National 4-H Congress.

This year, Lloyd is working to create convenient online resources to support 4-Hers through the process of applying for 4-H scholarships and programs – with tips for creating resumes and portfolios, writing essays, and answering interview questions.

“I am so honored to have been chosen for this award,” she said. “I hope that by being an ambassador for the Youth in Action Healthy Living program, I will inspire others to pursue their own passions.”

Elise Dearstyne, Civic Engagement Award

Dearstyne has been part of 4-H ever since she attended summer camp for the first time as a 9-year-old at the W.E. Skelton 4-H Educational Conference Center at Smith Mountain Lake. Since then, she hasn’t missed the opportunity to return each year.

“It’s one of my favorite places,” Dearstyne said. “The memories and raw joy of being away from the real world for five precious days, connecting with friends, participating in camp traditions, and crying at closing campfire will forever be engraved in my mind. My passion for being a leader sparked from the teen counselors and staff members who donated their time for the campers.”

Today, Dearstyne is looking forward to her third year as a teen counselor – and imparting those same precious memories to other Virginia youth. She says those early camp experiences are what opened the door to further 4-H involvement and shaped her into a leader.

As a member of the leadership team for Virginia 4-H Teen Summit, Dearstyne helps plan and organize a multiday event for 4-H participants from across the state. The event focuses on social justice issues and provides teens with the tools and advocacy skills to create change in their communities. Participants build action plans to support issues such as mental health, food security, racial justice, the environment, education, human rights, and more.

In the most recent summit session, Dearstyne represented the nonprofit organization Voters of Tomorrow, sharing with participants how to use their voices for political advocacy, empowerment, and voter education.

In the coming year, she plans to continue her work as a youth activist through Virginia Teen Summit, advocating for Voters of Tomorrow, racial and gender equity, as well as other issues. She also is excited to continue her leadership in 4-H camp.

“I would not be who I am today without 4-H summer camp and Teen Summit. These programs have inspired me to believe that I am strong, I have a burning passion, and I can do anything I set my mind to,” Dearstyne said. “4-H has given me a safe space where I feel like I belong.”

Aditi Pesarakayala, STEM Award

Growing up, Pesarakayala was always interested in science, technology, engineering, and math. But it wasn’t until she joined Loudoun County’s 4-H Innovation Club that she felt empowered to pursue these subjects openly as a passion.

“Before I joined 4-H, I always had trouble sharing my interest in STEM with others. 4-H inspired me to break out of my shell and be proud of my interest in STEM,” she said. “Now I’m a passionate advocate for women in STEM and motivated to help other young girls find opportunities as I did through 4-H.”

With other members of the Loudoun County 4-H Innovation Club, Pesarakayala works to solve problems and help her community by using STEM. She recently led creation of an online platform that educates citizens about proper recycling guidelines.

As a result of her efforts, Pesarakayala was asked to serve as a 4-H STEM ambassador, presenting the project to legislators and the public at a Microsoft Tech Spark Summit. She will also represent Virginia at the upcoming National Ignite Summit.

In the coming year, she plans to use her new leadership role to get more youth – especially girls – involved in STEM and 4-H.

“I am very grateful to be granted this award and I want to do as much as I can to help my community and other youths,” she said. “Even though it’s only been three years since I joined 4-H, it has become a home where I can be myself and enjoy my passion. I am very grateful for all the opportunities I have been granted though 4-H.”

Treyvion Spruill,  Agriculture Award

Spruill was first introduced to 4-H as during an afterschool program in Brunswick County. After attending summer camp with Greensville/Emporia 4-H at Airfield 4-H Educational Center in Wakefield, he was hooked.

Over the last eight years, he has served as a camp counselor, teen leader, mentor, and club officer  and has consistently volunteered for almost every Greensville County/City of Emporia 4-H community service project and program. He says his “greatest joy” has been volunteering at the community food market, boxing and distributing food to families of students in Greensville County Public Schools.

“Treyvion is dedicated to improving and giving back to his community and the local 4-H program,” said Hannah Parker, his 4-H youth development Extension agent. “He has earned more than 100 hours of community service helping his community. I can always count on him to help with 4-H programming efforts and community service projects. He has outstanding potential to do great things for his community and all of Virginia 4-H.”

Spruill is currently working to start a 4-H Jr. MANNRS chapter for Greensville County and the City of Emporia that would introduce middle and high school students to careers in agriculture, natural resources, and related sciences. He also is helping create afterschool and summer 4-H programs focused on virtual reality programming – a passion he developed while attending the National 4-H Ignite conference in 2023. He represented Virginia as a delegate in the 2023 National 4-H Congress in Atlanta.

“4-H has inspired me to be a better person and help others,” Spruill said. “It provided me with life skills that will be beneficial into adulthood and the opportunity to come out of my shell to meet new people and acquire long-term friendships. I would like to thank everyone who has supported me and continues to support me on my journey.”

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