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November 22, 2005

4-H lends helpful hands to heal hearts

Dr. Ort and daughter
State Extension Director Dr. Jon Ort sorts boxes with his daughter, Hunter, who is a 4-H'er. The two were on hand as boxes were loaded in Raleigh. (Photos by Becky Kirkland)

When Hurricanes Fran (’96), Floyd (’99) and Isabel (’03) devastated North Carolina, assistance poured in from 4-H’ers and Cooperative Extension professionals from around the country. And they did not forget the kindness.

So when the Gulf Coast was overwhelmed this fall, first by Hurricane Katrina and later by Rita, North Carolina Cooperative Extension and 4-H’ers joined forces to return the favor and help other 4-H’ers and Cooperative Extension employees through Operation “Helpful Hands, Healing Hearts.”

Shortly after Katrina hit, a North Carolina 4-H’er watching television news coverage saw a heart-breaking story, “Toys Among the Rubble.” As the news reporter pulled children’s toys from the rubble of a devastated home, he came across a dirt-covered 4-H bear. The story really hit home, reminding 4-H’ers of their connection to youth whose lives were turned upside down by the disaster.

State 4-H and advancement staff members formed a committee to consider relief efforts, and “Helpful Hands, Healing Hearts” was born. The 4-H bear photo became a symbol of the project and is posted on the Web site: http://www.nc4h.org/relief/ .

After phone calls to determine what was needed in Mississippi and Louisiana, the 4-H office sent out a plea for all counties to participate in the program in some way. The response from 4-H was overwhelming. On Oct. 8, trucks from N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Service crossed the state, collecting 4-H donations from 20 sites.

4-H’ers filled more than 8,000 shoeboxes, Clover Packs with crayons, small toys and school supplies for 4-H’ers and Essentials Kits with personal hygiene items. Five tractor trailers from North Carolina delivered the goods to three sites in Mississippi and one in Louisiana. One truckload of supplies was delivered to Kiln, Miss., where schools were closed for nearly two months after Katrina.

In addition, the N.C. 4-H program sold green and white wristbands and collected donations for hurricane recovery, bringing in more than $21,000 to help 4-H and Extension families in the Gulf states.

It has been called the largest 4-H community service project in North Carolina since WWII when school children, including 4-H’ers, saved their pennies to purchase the USS Battleship North Carolina, now a tourist attraction in Wilmington.

“The Helpful Hands, Healing Hearts project demonstrates the power of the Extension and 4-H system in making things happen. One 4-H bear pulled out of the rubble in Mississippi resulted in more that 8,000 Clover Packs and Essential Kits being packed by 4-H'ers from every corner of North Carolina to send to our 4-H friends in need in Mississippi and Louisiana,” said State 4-H Program Leader Marshall Stewart. “This project demonstrates what the 4-H program is all about -- empowering our youth to take action and to lead in unique ways that make a real difference.”

A 4-H Club in Spearfish, South Dakota, joined the effort, sending a pallet of kits that 4-H’ers created. When the North Carolina trucks pulled into Louisiana, they arrived at the same time as relief supplies from Florida 4-H’ers.

The effort even attracted presidential attention. Former President Clinton, who is co-chairing the recovery effort with Former President George Bush, visited North Carolina in September and accepted Clover Packs and Essentials Kits from 4-H’ers. Clinton promised to deliver the items to the Gulf region on his next visit.

4-H Clubs across the state were asked to choose a project: creating Clover Packs or Essential Kits. The Clover Packs included: a letter of encouragement from a North Carolina 4-H'er, 4-H curriculum and activity sheets, crayons and coloring books, pens and pencils, paper, small books, flashlights with batteries and small games and toys.

The Essentials Kits included non-perishables such as diapers, infant formula, wipes, hand sanitizer, bottled water; hygiene items, including soap, shampoo, toothbrush, toothpaste, washcloths, laundry detergent; first aid items and craft and game supplies. All the items were stored in small boxes or bags and labeled for appropriate age and gender.

Oct. 8 was the big day, when 4-H’ers delivered their donations to 20 sites where tractor trailers picked them up. At 4-H headquarters in Raleigh, there was a celebratory atmosphere. 4-H’ers and state officers led a press conference. They were joined by Dr. Jon Ort, state director of the Cooperative Extension Service, and Congressman Bob Etheridge.

“Extension is proud of our staff, volunteers and youth,” Ort said. “You have loaned helpful hands to help heal hearts.”

“This is a great, great project, especially for young folks. You’re reaching out and helping folks you don’t know,” said Etheridge, who described himself as “one old 4-H’er.”

“That’s what America’s all about, and you’re showing that North Carolina really cares,” he said.

4-H'ers load truck
4-H'ers load trucks bound for Mississippi.

4-H’ers from nearby communities brought their contributions to be loaded onto the trucks. The Great Strides 4-H Club from Franklin County brought 191 boxes that club members created. They spent two weekends outside a local WalMart, handing out wish lists of items they needed for their boxes. Many customers purchased items and dropped them off as they left the store.

“There were a lot of kids our age (affected by Katrina),” said club member Jackie Dean, 14. “If I were in their situation, I would want help.”

Members of the Raleigh Rangers 4-H Club adopted hurricane relief as their major community service project for the year. In addition to packing over 100 boxes at their club meetings, 4-H’er Ben Rowland convinced his Principal Muriel Summers, a 4-H alumna from Anson County, and the students at Combs Elementary School to participate. During a press conference at the school, more than 650 shoe boxes were delivered by students and loaded into vehicles for transport to the tractor-trailer trucks.

At the Raleigh press conference, Raleigh Rangers Sam Robinson, 11; Ben Rowland, 11; and Meg Malone, 7; described their project to write letters and create 650 boxes for the effort. “I think the kids will feel really good and happy and glad there’s someone out there to give them something,” Meg said.

Sunday, October 9, three tractor trailers from North Carolina arrived at Mississippi State University’s Bost Conference Center, bringing with them more than 6,700 care boxes packed by North Carolina 4-H’ers. They also presented more than $10,000 raised for Mississippi Operation 4-H Relief.

A week later, trucks arrived at the Louisiana State University Ag Center. There 4-H administrators and agents were grateful for the effort. The boxes went to both 4-H’ers and other youth still struggling with hurricane recovery. One agent said 300 boxes would be taken to Ascension Parish where 300 young people evacuated after Katrina were still living in a shelter.

Trey Williams, executive director of the Louisiana 4-H Foundation, said the North Carolina project gave hope to youth in his state. “It really shows that even though we are miles apart and in different states that we do have a bond and that 4-H and the 4-H clover is that bond,” he said.

-N. Hampton

Posted by Natalie at November 22, 2005 03:17 PM