Virginia Tech® home

Virginia 4-H Blog

Welcome to the Virginia 4-H Blog! Here you will find stories from our 4-H community about our amazing people and programs. Check back every Wednesday for a new post!

Elle Smith: 4-H Cabinet Highlight

May 2, 2018

Written by Elle Smith, State 4-H Cabinet Reporter/Historian


Hello, Virginia 4-H! My name is Elle Smith and I am delighted to serve as your Virginia 4-H State Reporter/Historian and Virginia 4-H Southwest District Ambassador! Putting all efforts into a situation is a prominent theme of a productive 4-H-er. 4-H has handed me many life situations and trained me how to react appropriately. Developing leadership, competition, and business behaviors came along with my 4-H journey. I’ve been able to lead as a teen counselor at summer camps, lead afterschool programs, but also lead from a different perspective. Lead to provide a voice in our state. Cabinet has given me this aspect of my journey. Moreover, competition has sprung at 4-H congress with the opportunity to present and be corrected in a learning environment. Lastly, business behavior is trained within the competitions, meeting with other 4-H-ers, and traveling with the 4-H State Cabinet. It all combines for a real life business situation. Thank you for furthering my community growth and electing me as your Virginia 4-H State Reporter/Historian and Virginia 4-H Southwest District Ambassador.


Toni Newby: 4-H Cabinet Highlight

March 28, 2018

Written by Toni Newby, State 4-H Cabinet Ambassador 

Toni Newby, self-portrait

Hello everyone, my name is Toni Newby, and I am from Surry County. I currently have been in 4-H for 13 years. My 4-H story begins when I was only five years old, and I joined Cloverbuds for the first time. The first person I saw that loved 4-H with a pure passion was Mrs. Billie Jean Elmer. She pushed my mom to make me go to specialty camps, such as space camp and robotics camp. Those experiences made 4-H feel as if it was my home away from home.

A sample of Toni's work

4-H has allowed me to not only become a better person but also a better leader. It also has allowed me to improve upon my public speaking skills and also my ability to take responsibility of my own actions. Without 4-H, I would not have experienced T.E.L.I, Congress at Virginia Tech, or even Summer Camp. Without Mrs. Billie Jean Elmer, I would not be the passionate 4-H member I am today or the Southeast Ambassador I am today. Now as a senior in high school, I enjoy running my photography business called Toni T Photography. 4-H and Technology Student Association (TSA) have allowed me to gain knowledge on how to run a business smoothly. I would definitely like to thank 4-H for long lasting memories and the skills I have learned while being in this organization for 13 years.

Youth Program Quality: Creating a Supportive Environment

March 7, 2018

Written by Jeremy Johnson, State 4-H Program Leader

A supportive environment is key to retaining members.

The Youth Program Quality Assessment (High/Scope, 2005) identifies four components of a quality youth programs: safe environment, supportive environment, interaction, and engagement. This month as we continue our discussion on youth program quality in 4-H experiences, we will explore ways to create a supportive environment.

The 4-H program focuses on experiences that support the four-fold development of youth using the head, heart, hands, and health as a pathway to skill development. 4-H members develop confidence, competence, caring, character, connection, and contribution as a result of long-term involvement in the 4-H program. To increase the likelihood a youth will become a long-term member, it is important to start with a strong foundation. The adult’s role is to create a supportive environment that makes the 4-H’er welcome and to feel as though they belong to the group. Through this welcoming environment, the 4-H member begins to build connections and relationships with the adult volunteers and other 4-H members.

Program Quality Pyramid

Once the 4-H member feels welcomed and an interest is sparked, the adult begins to help the youth to set goals around their 4-H experience or project. Through positive encouragement and active engagement, the 4-H member begins increasing knowledge and competency in the project. However, without a sound foundation of support the 4-H member may not be willing to take a risk to learn, stretch, and grow. When I was young, I had a great fear of public speaking, particularly in front of a large audience. In front of my peers, I was very shy and self-conscious. I would avoid public speaking or reading aloud at all costs. However, through the supportive environment created by 4-H camp staff, I began to take the risk to speak and present. As I grew older and transitioned from camper to teen counselor, I was encouraged to develop skills in teaching and instructing classes at camp. Without active engagement and encouragement throughout my camp experiences, I am certain I would have less confidence in public speaking to this day.

So, how do you create a supportive environment in the 4-H experiences that you lead?

Youth Ag Leadership Summit

February 28, 2018

Video by Kelsey Grimes, Wythe 4-H Agent

4-H promotes leadership and agricultural advocacy at the 2017 Youth Ag Leadership Summit. Check out the video above!

Loading player for


Virginia 4-H Dairy Judging Team Competes Nationally

February 21, 2018

Written by Cathy Howland, Powhatan 4-H Agent

Dairy judging team members Caroline Adkins, Bridgett Landis, and Jessica Myers

Three young ladies got the opportunity to travel to travel to Louisville, KY to compete in a recent national contest. Caroline Adkins and Bridgett Landis of Powhatan 4-H, joined Jessica Myers from Shenandoah 4-H, to represent Virginia at the 44th National American International Livestock Exposition (NAILE). They were among 98 FFA/4-H youth representing states from across the country who competed in dairy judging at the Kentucky Exposition Center in November.

Bridgett earned 10th place as high individual overall, while Virginia 4-H was 15th out of 23 teams. Caroline took 12th place high individual for the Guernsey division, while Bridgett earned 12th for Holstein. The Virginia team also took 8th place high team for the Ayrshire division. For the dairy judging, contestants gave reasons and ranked dairy cows including Jersey, Holstein, Guernsey, Brown Swiss, and Ayrshire. According to NAILE’s website, NAILE is the world's largest all-breed, purebred livestock exposition with 30,000 total entries and 140 competitions held. Ten different species of livestock compete in the exposition, and the purebred beef and sheep events are the largest in the world.

NAILE is the world's largest all-breed, purebred livestock exposition

Johns Bailey and Steve Meadows, both of Powhatan, are the Powhatan dairy judging coaches. Powhatan’s senior team earned first place for Virginia 4-H in June and all four team members earned the opportunity to participate on the state 4-H dairy judging team. Caroline and Bridgett both live on dairy farms. Jessica participated in the state 4-H dairy contest as an individual to earn a spot on the state team. All three girls are high school seniors.

To gain experience, team members gave up many weekends competing in contests and practice sessions throughout the summer and fall, including the Maryland State Fair and Junior Dairymen’s Contest at the State Fair of Virginia. While in Kentucky, the Virginia delegates practiced at a Lexington dairy along with several college teams, including Virginia Tech and Purdue. They also spent an afternoon watching horse races at Churchill Downs Racetrack. Jeremy Daubert, Dairy Extension Agent from Rockingham and head coach of the Virginia 4-H dairy judging team, and Cathy Howland, Powhatan 4-H Extension Agent, traveled with the team to NAILE.

Virginia’s 4-H Dairy Judging Contest takes places June 16, 2018. For more information on dairy judging opportunities in Virginia, contact Dave Winston,, or Jeremy Daubert,

Virginia 4-H Horse Judging Team Wins National Championship

February 14, 2018

Written by Caroline Sutphin, 4-H Communications Technician

Virginia's Eastern National Roundup Delegation

The Virginia 4-H horse judging team won first overall at the Eastern National 4-H Horse Judging Contest in November.

"Winning the national contest means so much to this team. I knew at the beginning of the year they had the talent to do it, and they worked tirelessly every week to make sure they were ready for the challenge of Eastern Nationals," said Leona Ransdell, the coach of the Horse Judging team.

The Eastern National 4-H Horse Roundup is held annually in Louisville, Kentucky. The event allows 4-H'ers to compete nationally in several contests, including Horse Judging, Hippology, Horse Bowl, and Horse Communications. This year, 306 youth competed from 26 states across the country. For the Virginia 4-H Horse Judging team, this was their biggest and most important contest to date.

Team members Charlotte Manvell, 17 of Fredericksburg, Virginia; Ruth Martin, 16 of Check, Virginia; Sarah Seay, 16 of Louisa, Virginia; and Caitlyn Russ, 17 of Palmyra, Virginia each placed high individually, demonstrating the skills they've worked hard to cultivate through practice and competition. They were scored in three areas: halter class judging, performance class judging, and oral reasons. They placed first in halter, first in performance, and third in reasons, taking home the first overall.

Virginia 4-H had 16 total competitors at the Roundup, all placing well in their competitions. The Horse Bowl team of Taryn Cowles, Emma Hartman, Katie Define, and Hannah Beaver placed ninth overall. In Hippology, the team of Nikki Novak, Adela Novak, Peyton Freeman, and Claire Edwards placed tenth overall. The Virginia Communications team placed ninth overall, with Caroline Perkins competing in Public Speaking, Kate Hudson competing in Individual Presentation, and Camryn Madagan and Brenna Hathaway competing in Team Presentation.

Congratulations to all of these outstanding 4-H'ers!

A Healthier Start for Alexandria

January 31, 2018

Written by Reggie Morris, Alexandria 4-H Agent

Alexandria youth learning to make healthy choices

Born out of a casual conversation among colleagues, "A Healthier Start for Alexandria" is quickly becoming a leading force shaping the lives of youth in Alexandria. Through the generous support of the Virginia 4-H Foundation's Innovative Programming Awards, Alexandria 4-H, the Virginia Family Nutrition Program, and the Alexandria/Arlington Master Food Volunteer Program have joined forces to bring attention to the health risk factors, such as growing rates of childhood obesity, facing young people in Alexandria. Throughout Alexandria, 4-H'ers are learning the benefits of making healthy lifestyle choices when it comes to food and physical activity.

A shining example of the success of "A Healthier Start for Alexandria" can be found at Jefferson-Houston K-12. A group of 3rd-5th grade students recently completed a six week afterschool SPIN Club titled "Choose Health!" During each session, students explored basic nutrition topics, including: making smart breakfast choices, limiting sugar sweetened beverages, and making wise choices related to fast food. Each session included a physical activity and concluded with a healthy snack.

"A Healthier Start for Alexandria" will continue to coordinate events and workshops for the remainder of the 4-H year. For more information on the program or ways to get involved, please contact Van Do, SNAP-Ed Extension Agent, or Reggie Morris, 4-H Extension Agent at the Alexandria Cooperative Extension Office.

Virginia Tech Associate Dean Edwin Jones elected to National 4-H Council Board of Trustees

January 24, 2018

Written by Amy Painter, CALS Communications and Marketing


National 4-H Council announced the election of Edwin Jones as a voting member of the Council Board to represent Cooperative Extension. Jones is Associate Dean of the Virginia Tech College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, as well as the Director of Virginia Cooperative Extension.

Jones was recently joined by Mary Snapp, Corporate Vice President of Microsoft Philanthropies, Mark Berven, President and Chief Operating Officer, Nationwide Property & Casualty, and Sergio Martínez-Beltrán, student, Michigan State University, who were appointed to the board in late September.

The 21-member board is focused on an aggressive fundraising and marketing initiative to significantly increase investment and participation in Cooperative Extension’s 4-H programs. The new trustees are expected to support National 4-H Council’s goal to grow 4-H to reach 10 million young people by 2025.

“We are extremely grateful to these new trustees for bringing their leadership and expertise to 4-H,” said Jennifer Sirangelo, president and CEO, National 4-H Council. “They will be important partners in our work to maintain our core value of growing true leaders with the essential life skills needed in all communities nationwide.”

Jones also co-chairs the Extension Committee on Organization and Policy 4-H Leadership Committee. He has held leadership positions in the Extension Disaster Education Network, the National Association of Community Development Extension Professionals, Southern Region Program Leader Network, and the Association of Southern Region Extension Directors. Prior to that he served as associate director and state program leader for Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Community and Rural Development; associate state program leader for Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Community and Rural Development; assistant department head and department extension leader in forestry; and, as extension wildlife specialist and professor of forestry at NC State University. He has also served as an extension wildlife specialist at Mississippi State University.

Jones has a bachelor’s degree in zoology from the University of Washington, and Master of Science and a doctoral degree from Virginia Tech in fisheries and wildlife science.

Extension is an important partner within the land-grant university system that is responsible for delivering 4-H programs to young people in every county and parish in the United States.

4-H is the nation’s largest youth development organization with programs that empower nearly six million young people across the U.S., helping them to develop critical life skills. In the U.S., 4-H serves every county and parish through a network of 110 universities, and more than 3,000 local offices. 4-H is led by a unique private-public partnership of universities, federal and local government agencies, foundations and professional associations. National 4-H Council is the private sector, non-profit partner of the Cooperative Extension System and 4-H National Headquarters, located at the National Institute of Food and Agriculture within the United States Department of Agriculture.

Laken Culbertson: 4-H Youth Highlight

January 17, 2018

Written by Laken Culbertson, Wise County 4-H'er

Laken pictured with a fellow 4-H'er and her 4-H agent, Hunter Romano

I started 4-H by doing crafts in primary school. As soon as I was old enough, I attended the summer camp in Abingdon. After attending my first year at camp, I was hooked. I could tell from that first week of camp that 4-H was going to be something special. I have attended summer camp every year since then faithfully. Starting in 4-H as a young girl like I did definitely had a huge impact on the person I have grown to be. Being in 4-H has taught me so many valuable lessons that I know I will carry with me as I transform into an adult.

Through 4-H I have learned how to communicate properly with peers and adults, to be in a position of authority, and most importantly to make the best better. I have learned through the course of my middle and high school years that no matter what is going on in life 4-H is something you can turn to. No matter what you are doing in the program you always have the gentle push of your peers and the adults around you to do the best that you can at it. For me personally, I know that having that stable environment surrounding me with love and patience is what molded me into the individual I am today. I have noticed and experienced the joy that 4-H continues to bring to me and the people around me. I love being able to see new 4-Hers experiencing all of the things that I have over the years.

Laken loves being a positive role model to children in her community.

I am beyond blessed to have been a part of Wise County 4-H. I have watched us grow into a family in the nine years I have been a part of this program. I see the program increasingly growing in my county, because people notice the change that 4-H makes to the county as a whole. I watch this program not only impact the lives of myself and my peers, but the children that become a part of it and their families. My best experience in 4-H is getting to be a positive role model to those around me. Sadly, this is my last year as a Wise County 4-Her, but I know that I am going to carry the skills and friendships I have gained through 4-H with me as I continue to grow. I hope that 4-H continues to plant its roots and impact lives in this county as greatly as it has mine in the past nine years.

Carol Koontz: 4-H Volunteer Highlight

January 10, 2018

Written by Kaci Daniel, Orange 4-H Agent

Carol painting a pumpkin with a Cloverbud

Carol Koontz has made a big impact on youth in Orange County during more than 14 years of service as a 4-H volunteer. Her Orange 4-H Livestock Cloverbud Club is generally referred to as "Miss Carol's Cloverbuds" throughout the community, and that's because she builds incredible relationships with each member. Carol is enthusiastic, creative, encouraging, kind and flexible. Her members pitch in to help with any project she presents, and that loyalty continues into members' junior and senior age 4-H involvement.

Carol's favorite part of volunteering is "seeing the joy and excitement on the children's faces when they do something or help someone." Her most memorable moment in 4-H was the time she tried to get twenty Cloverbuds to carve pumpkins. "Oh my, what a chore! We had a mess!" she laughed. "That's why we only paint them now."

Carol helping Cloverbuds make bird feeders

Carol was tapped as an honorary 4-H All Star last year, served as co-leader of the 4-H Home Ec Club for more than five years, and was the Parent Adviser for the Livestock Club Community Service Committee. She leads the Cloverbud Chicken & Rabbit Parade at the annual Orange County Fair, is a co-superintendent of the 4-H Bottle Babies Show, has chaperoned State 4-H Congress, and has helped with community Farm Safety Day and Farm Tour for fifth graders. Most recently, Carol spearheaded a county-wide 4-H service project to create 100 no-sew fleece blankets for families in need.

Carol enjoys RV camping with her husband and two adult children, cooking, shopping, and reading. Her favorite food is Mexican, and her favorite author is Nicholas Sparks. "Miss Carol" is always busy pinning new 4-H ideas on Pinterest, volunteering in the community, and enjoying time with her family and friends.

Thank you for being an outstanding 4-H volunteer!

Youth Program Quality: Creating a Safe Environment

January 3, 2018

Written by Jeremy Johnson, State 4-H Program Leader

Program Quality Pyramid

If you asked a 4-H member, volunteer, or professional if 4-H makes a difference in the lives of youth, I imagine nearly every response would be a resounding "Yes." We know from our own experiences that 4-H promotes the development of youth through learning (head), compassion (heart), and doing (hands) in such a way that promotes overall well-being (health). Often, we think about 4-H as a project or an activity; while robotics, livestock, healthy cooking, shooting education, and other projects are a core component of the 4-H experience, it is important to remember that 4-H is a process. Projects are tools to support the process of developing leadership, citizenship, and life skills in youth. The process used in 4-H is supported by positive youth development research. This research has identified indicators of youth program quality that allow a 4-H member, volunteer, or professional to assess how well the 4-H process is being implemented.

Over the next few blog entries from me, we will look at a few leading models of youth program quality and explore some questions to gauge the strengths of your 4-H program and to identify opportunities for improvement. The Youth Program Quality Assessment (High/Scope, 2005) identifies four components of a quality youth program: safe environment, supportive environment, interaction, and engagement. We will use this framework to explore how we organize our 4-H program experiences to ensure we offer the highest quality.

Let's begin by taking a look at the first component, a safe environment. We understand the importance of risk management planning in our 4-H project work to keep youth safe. However, a safe environment is much more than making sure we have health history forms on file and insurance for our 4-H clubs. Creating a safe environment also means we are attentive to the psychological and emotional needs of our program participants. For example, we become aware and attentive if a 4-H member becomes withdrawn and distant or agitated and frustrated. Below are a couple questions you can use to begin to think about how well your 4-H program or club is creating a safe environment.

If you asked a 4-H member to describe how safe they felt in your 4-H program, what would the response be? 

What steps have you taken to address risk in your 4-H program?

2017 National 4-H Congress

December 27, 2017

Written by: Caroline Sutphin, Virginia 4-H Communications Technician

Virginia's 2017 National Congress Delegation

Thirteen youth, selected through interviews in June, represented Virginia 4-H at National 4-H Congress in November. Those outstanding teens, pictured above, are (front row, left to right) Caitlyn Russ, Prema Subramaniam, Tiffany Heishman, Dakota Stroud, Katie Vanik, Katie Sharp, Autumn Reed, Alina Hackney, (back row, left to right) Daniel Hale, Jason Thies, Kagan McCall, Zeren Belcher, Diaz Tompkins, Evan Thies, Rhonda Fuller, and chaperone Tara Brent.

The delegates reported that they "learned about the diversity of 4-H" and "learned what service truly is." They also stated that they will take what they learned on the trip back to their local 4-H clubs.

For more than 95 years, National 4-H Congress has been a premiere, nation-wide opportunity for 4-H members across America. Originally held in Chicago, the event is now held in Atlanta, Georgia during Thanksgiving break.

National 4-H Congress is a five-day event that engages high school 4-H members in leadership, citizenship, global awareness, and inclusion. Participants not only have the opportunity to participate in state-of-the-art educational workshops and hear from world-renowned speakers, they also have the opportunity to network with other 4-H members from across the United States.

Virginia 4-H is proud of these young people who represent our very best!

Carly Townsend: 4-H Youth Highlight

December 20, 2017

Written by: Hannah Robbins, Dinwiddie 4-H Agent

Carly serves as a leader for her local teen club.

Carly Townsend, of Dinwiddie, VA, credits her participation in the Dinwiddie 4-H camping program to helping her find her voice and become a leader. Carly began her 4-H journey by signing up for the Dinwiddie 4-H Junior camp when she was 13 years old to serve as a Counselor-in-Training. Though she did not have any previous camp experience, she excelled and fell in love with camp. At 13 years old, Carly was a shy, soft-spoken teen who slowly broke through her shell. As a senior at Dinwiddie High School, Carly serves as one of the strongest leaders in the Dinwiddie Teen Club as well as Junior 4-H Camp. She was elected as the club Historian and leads several projects including the National 4-H Week campaign as well as the club’s nursing home initiative to connect teens with our local senior citizens.

At camp this past summer, Carly was selected to serve as a Big Leader through a difficult application process. In this position, she excelled through hardships and difficulties to eventually win the Spirit Stick for the 2017 Dinwiddie-Northampton Junior 4-H Camp which is, of course, a BIG deal. Carly stated "It was a huge deal for me personally, but an even bigger accomplishment that I led a team of new campers to their goal.”

4-H has made Carly a role model.

Now at her senior year, Carly reflects on how the 4-H program has shaped her future goals and career choice. She wants to attend James Madison University after graduation to continue making a difference in people’s lives by becoming a nurse with a focus in pediatrics. She credits some of her interest to 4-H because of her experience in working with children and volunteering. Carly sees the joy in bringing happiness to others and making an impact on lives. 4-H has not only shaped her into stepping up as a leader, but also becoming a more positive and enthusiastic role model for children which will be important in her future career.

Carly is one of 17 seniors in the Dinwiddie 4-H camping program who have all grown together through their experience and service. We are so proud of all she and our seniors have accomplished, and we look forward to seeing where life takes them!

Sarah Gregory: 4-H Volunteer Highlight

December 13, 2017

Written by: Bethany Eigel, Chesterfield 4-H Agent

Ms. Sarah at a Chesterfield 4-H awards ceremony

Sarah Gregory has been a 4-H volunteer for nearly 50 years in Chesterfield County, and she is beloved across the state. There are not too many 4-H'ers - either present or past - who don't know Ms. Sarah. She is a regular at 4-H Camp, State Congress, Kid's Tech University, 4-H Volunteer Conferences, Intermediate Congress, and 4-H All Star events just to name a few! It's easy to see why Ms. Sarah has been named Treasured Volunteer of the Year for Chesterfield County, as well as the Virginia 4-H Volunteer of the Year and the VA4-HAVL Outstanding State Volunteer Leader. Ms. Sarah's service to 4-H'ers everywhere is invaluable. 

But what keeps her going? Check out this interview conducted by former Virginia 4-H President, Rachel Kendrick:

Loading player for


Jeremy Johnson's 4-H Story

December 6, 2017

Written by: Jeremy Johnson, State 4-H Program Leader

Jeremy pictured with his family

Welcome to the new Virginia 4-H blog! As the State 4-H Program Leader, I will be writing a post on the first Wednesday of every month. Today, I'd like to start by telling my own 4-H story.

When I reflect on my 4-H story, I am overcome with a great sense of gratitude. I am grateful for the connections, challenges, and opportunities I have experienced through my 4-H journey. My 4-H story began as a junior camper at Airfield 4-H Center. A friend from Cub Scouts invited me to 4-H Camp when I was nine years old, and it marked the beginning of my journey that has continued for over 25 years. My 4-H Camp experience provided me with the opportunity to become more independent, responsible, and to connect with so many diverse youth and adults. It was at 4-H Camp, through the support and challenge of my 4-H agents and program director, that I began to understand the power of the positive influence of adult leaders. I was challenged to set goals and encouraged stretch beyond my comfort zone to develop my own leadership skills. It was these connections that helped to support me to become a first generation high school graduate and to go on to be a successful Hokie at Virginia Tech. As a young 4-H agent in James City County, it was the wisdom, guidance, and support of my mentoring 4-H agents, district director, and volunteer leaders that created the drive to support transformational programming for 4-H youth. 

Jeremy pictured at 4-H Camp

I am also grateful for the personal connection and relationships that have brought me to where I am today. I'm grateful that 4-H Camp connected me with a wonderful, caring, and supportive young woman whom would eventually become my wife. We have built our marriage and family on the values we learned through our 4-H Camp experiences. The 4-H story continues with our own family, as both our children are active members of 4-H Camps and the 4-H Cooking Kings Club. In fact, I'm very proud to say that my daughter has just been elected as secretary of her Junior 4-H'er club during her first year. I've told her that I didn't hold my first officer role in a 4-H club until I was a junior in high school, when I served as vice president along with my daughter's now-aunt. Love for the 4-H program runs deep in my immediate and extended family.

4-H has helped me to develop the grit and determination that has shaped both my personal life and professional career. I look forward to cultivating an environment that challenges and supports 4-H professionals, volunteers, and members to "Make the Best Better." I'm Jeremy Johnson, and I'm grateful to be your State 4-H Program Leader for Virginia 4-H.

Don't forget to check back every Wednesday for new 4-H stories and the first Wednesday of every month for more of my posts!