Helping Hands: Through the pandemic and natural disasters, 4-H’ers help other communities

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Rylee Bourriaque, a Cameron 4-H member affected by the storms, looks forward to receiving
mail from her Clovers Connect pen pal, a Natchitoches Parish 4-H member. Photo provided by Bourriaque family.

Every year 4-H’ers make a pledge to devote their “hands to larger service,” promising to step back from their own personal needs and serve others. The COVID-19 pandemic, as well as natural disasters of hurricanes and flooding, led the 4-H community to numerous service opportunities. The pandemic is a major cause of trauma in young people in many areas of the country, but in Louisiana, many young people are coping with an extra burden — the psychological effects of hurricanes and other natural disasters.

4-H’ers contributed many hours of service in response to the pandemic. Louisiana 4-H partnered with 7-Dippity Inc., a Florida-based organization, to offer educational webinars and resources to 4-H professionals and volunteers, school systems and other community partners. The three-part webinar series helped participants learn strategies for talking with children, understanding their stress and providing tips for coping.

“It was a great training, and the information presented was valuable for all of us living in areas affected so much by frequent storms,” said one webinar participant.

With the impact of hurricanes Laura and Delta, many 4-H members were anxious to aid and support fellow 4-H members and others. Many parish 4-H programs organized hurricane recovery drives to collect supplies and funds. To address long-term recovery needs, the Louisiana 4-H program established Clovers Connect, a pen pal initiative. 4-H members from throughout the state “adopted” a 4-H member whose life was changed by the storms. The letter writing kicked off in November 2020 with 100 participants receiving 4-H notecards and letter writing tips. Rylee Bourriaque, a Cameron Parish 4-H'er, was a recipient of a caring peer through Clovers Connect. “It feels good to have a pen pal, and I want to eventually meet her one day,” she said. “It’s nice to make a new friend.”

The Louisiana 4-H Program also worked to connect school systems hit by the storms with Learning Undefeated, an organization that provides science-based experiences in mobile science labs. Summer camps were offered to sixth through 12th graders in partnership with the Calcasieu Parish School System. After the camp experience, students reported a greater excitement in going back to science class when returning to school, and an increased number of students felt strongly that they could have a career in STEM if interested.

The phrase “boots on the ground” can be used to describe the numerous service efforts organized through the 4-H program. From tarping homes to serving food, 4-H members and volunteers jumped into action. Through a coordinated effort led by Natchitoches 4-H Agent Pam Pearce, parish representatives of the Northwest Region convoyed relief efforts to storm-struck areas with stops in Beauregard and Calcasieu parishes. Using resources and conducting supply drives, the effort provided an 18-wheeler filled with bottled water, numerous cleaning supplies and 500 hot meals.

“It was great to have our teens travel with us to the impacted area and serve the meals,” Pearce said. “It helped them to develop an appreciation for the service they were providing to those in need. It was a great hands-on experience that will stay with them and provided great lessons.”

Bossier Parish 4-H Agent Jeannie Crnkovic was happy to join her Northwest Region co-workers in the effort spearheaded by Pam Pearce. Crnkovic said this experience provided 4-H members with an opportunity to aid others and helped them to realize that there are always people in need, but the needs change based on the situation.

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Calcasieu Parish youth participated in a summer enrichment program
provided through Learning Undefeated. Photo provided by Learning Undefeated.

3/31/2022 10:14:31 PM
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