Janet Fox | 2/23/2006 3:42:32 AM
A Vermilion Parish 4-H’er recently was recognized as the Louisiana winner of the Prudential Spirit of Community Award, which honors young people for outstanding volunteer service to their communities.
Victoria LeBlanc, 17, of Abbeville, a member of Vermilion Parish 4-H and a home-schooled high school senior, was honored for organizing an annual talent show that in its first two years raised more than $6,000 for a local hospital and for deployed soldiers and their families.
4-H is the youth development and outreach program of the nation’s land-grant university system. It is operated in Louisiana by the LSU AgCenter and is designed to provide skills and knowledge that will benefit young people throughout their lives.
Terril Faul, who heads the LSU AgCenter’s 4-H Youth Development program, said LeBlanc’s activities are what 4-H is all about.
"Volunteerism and community involvement are two of the skills young people learn by being involved in 4-H," Faul said. "4-H teaches young people skills that will follow them into adulthood. We are very proud of Victoria."
An experienced piano player and a strong proponent of community service, LeBlanc was looking for a way to combine those two interests when she hit upon the idea of a fund-raising talent show.
"I truly believe in the performing arts and their ability to enhance a person’s life," she said. A talent show, she reasoned, "would be a fun way to give 4-H’ers and community members an opportunity to get involved in the performing arts and raise money for a great cause at the same time."
For the first "Showcase of Talent Benefit" in 2003, LeBlanc coordinated every detail – choosing performers, securing a location, promoting the event, selling tickets, encouraging donations and producing the show. The proceeds of more than $3,600 were donated to St. Jude’s Hospital.
For the second benefit, LeBlanc asked the parish’s 4-H Junior Leader Club to take an active role in the production, which raised $2,600. The funds were used to make "hero packs" for children of deployed members of the 256th National Guard Infantry and to ship needed items to the troops.
Created in 1995 by Prudential Financial in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals, the Spirit of Community awards constitute the United States' largest youth recognition program based solely on volunteering. Over the past 11 years, the program has honored more than 70,000 young volunteers at the local, state and national levels.
Two youths – one high school student and one middle-level student in each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia – were named state honorees in the 2006 program. Each will receive a $1,000 award, an engraved silver medallion and an expense-paid trip to Washington, D.C., in May 2006 for four days of recognition events.