When over 120 high school students from across North Carolina gathered for Citizenship NC Focus 2023 last week, the passion and excitement was evident. “We are making a difference,” proclaimed Laurelyn Ridge, state 4-H council president, to the group as she kicked off the annual conference. Over two days, students representing counties across the state would gather in Raleigh to learn more about civic engagement, create connections and “ignite their spark.”
The theme of this year’s Citizenship North Carolina Focus was “Reconnecting, Reimagining, and Igniting our 4-H Community,” which focused on making a difference together. Throughout the two-day conference, students explored key topics like what it means to be an engaged citizen and community member and what skills and responsibilities are attached to these roles.
After a day of workshops focused on collaboration, community and self-reflection, these future leaders traveled to the North Carolina Legislative Building to put their talents to work. Broken up into groups by county, the students visited their local elected officials in the General Assembly to learn more about the inner workings of our government and discuss the issues that matter most to them.
“The purpose of the citizenship focus experience is engaging in constructive dialogue with our peers and elected officials and embracing the idea that we all have a voice and we can all make a difference,” Ridge added.
For over 15 years, North Carolina’s Electric Cooperatives have supported the annual event, which emphasizes that each participant, even at a young age, can take action and make a difference in their lives and community. Representatives from North Carolina’s Electric Cooperatives attended the kickoff luncheon on day one of the conference and addressed the group of 4-Hers.
“North Carolina’s Electric Cooperatives are proud to be longstanding supporters of 4-H because we know that you are the future leaders of our state, and alongside each of you, we are focused on building a brighter future for our communities,” said Chris Nault, manager of public relations at North Carolina’s Electric Cooperatives speaking to the group. “Civic engagement is a responsibility we all share, and we all benefit when young people like you are committed to becoming aware of the challenges we face as a state and exploring how you can be part of the solution.”
4-H is the largest youth development organization in North Carolina and the nation. The N.C. State Extension and Cooperative Extension at North Carolina A&T conduct 4-H programs that allow youth to “learn by doing,” and provide programs and camps that help turn students into the leaders of tomorrow. Additionally, local 4-H programs in the state serve many of the same rural areas as North Carolina’s 26 electric cooperatives do, making the partnership between organizations unique and impactful.
“North Carolina 4-H and North Carolina’s electric cooperatives have a long history of collaboration, partnership and support. North Carolina 4-H is appreciative of all that North Carolina’s electric cooperatives do to ensure that our young people are learning the knowledge and skills necessary to be successful during and after their time in 4-H,” said Dr. Mike Yoder, associate director and state 4-H program leader with N.C. State University.
About half of North Carolina’s electric cooperatives also directly invest in local 4-H programs in their local communities. Some co-ops contribute funds supporting livestock shows, youth camps, golf tournaments, scholarships and more. Others provide electric safety demonstrations, participate in field days, donate materials for energy efficiency campaigns in the community, have employees serve on advisory committees and support disaster preparedness programs.
Support for youth and education is part of the cooperatives’ vision for building a brighter future for North Carolina’s rural communities.