Tag Archives: 4-H

Hokie Bugfest spreads its wings on Oct. 20

Don’t miss the eighth annual Hokie BugFest on Oct. 20, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., at Virginia Tech’s Squires Student Center and at locations in downtown Blacksburg!

The free event has something for everyone, including a host of new exhibits and competitions for 2018. Hokie BugFest is a STEAM-inspired (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math) community festival that celebrates the joy and excitement of entomology.

In cooperation with the Virginia Tech Center for Autism Research, Hokie BugFest is a S.A.F.E., or Supporting Autism-Friendly Environments, event. Quiet hour and activities begin at 9 a.m. for children with autism or other disabilities.

Visitors can creep and crawl their way through three floors of bug-inspired activities in Squires Student Center as well as walk through a beautiful butterfly tent or the spooky Spiders’ Lair. In the Colonial Hall Auditorium, attendees can watch the Bug Whisperer, Tony Gustin, with shows throughout the day or cheer on the adventurous eaters of the Bug Eating Contest at 1:30 p.m. They can also check out bird-eating tarantulas, whip scorpions, death-feigning beetles, and more than 200 arthropods in Virginia Tech’s own bug zoo.

Other attractions include a pollination station that has a working beehive where live bees are making honey and visitors can observe the dance language of bees and see if they can spot the queen. Attendees can also play the nectar gathering bean-bag toss and learn about the many products of the hive, such as beeswax and royal jelly.

New to Hokie BugFest is the Buggy Art Contest where visitors can view bug-themed paintings, photography, and sculptures entered by local youth and adults. Throughout the day, visitors can also play festival favorites like Bug Jeopardy, Bug Bingo, or attempt the Bee Waggle Dance to win a prize.

In Old Dominion Ball Room on the first floor of Squires Student Center, visitors can learn about forensic entomology, pests of your pets, and the latest insect-related research at Virginia Tech. Hokie BugFest wouldn’t be complete without endless arts and crafts, a peek through a pair of insect goggles, and the chance to earn a Junior Entomologist certificate.

On College Avenue in Downtown Blacksburg, the first Humans Dressed as Dung Beetles Race will take place at 3 p.m., where individuals and teams will compete to see who can roll their dung ball the fastest.  Interested racers can preregister online or sign up at the festival.

Also new to Hokie BugFest is the Buggin’-Out Costume Contest and Parade – where the two buggiest costumes will be crowned the festival’s King and Queen. Costume entries should check in at the Lyric Theatre no later than 10:45 a.m.  Judging will begin at 11:00 a.m.

The Lyric Theatre is hosting Storytime with Joelle at 10 a.m., Alberti’s Flea Circus throughout the day, and a free showing of the movie “Microcosmos” at 4 p.m. Visitors can take home a bug-inspired balloon creation from Brandon the Balloon Guy.

No matter how you spend your day, Hokie BugFest is guaranteed to leave you bug-crazed!

For festival maps, a complete schedule of events, and contest information including online entry forms, please visit the Hokie Bugfest website or Facebook page.

This event highlights an ongoing youth education program hosted by the Virginia Tech Department of Entomology, Virginia Cooperative Extension’s 4-H program, and the department’s student-run professional organization, the W. B. Alwood Entomological Society.

If you are a person with a disability and desire any assistive devices, services, or other accommodations to participate in this activity, please contact Mike Weaver at 540-231-6543 during business hours of 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. to discuss accommodations at least five days prior to the event.

— Written by Zeke Barlow


Children fighting cancer get ray of hope through 4-H, Camp Fantastic partnership

Camp Fantastic campers

Camp Fantastic, which is run by the nonprofit Special Love, allows kids to be kids, to forget for a time that they are battling cancer.

Abby Snider was 15 years old when she had a long string of illnesses that she couldn’t seem to shake.

At first, she had a cough, then an ear infection, then strep throat. Doctors couldn’t figure out what was wrong until they found a mass in her chest. They told her she had cancer.

“It was scary, I thought I was going to die,” she remembers. “All I knew was that cancer was something people’s grandparents died from.”

Six months after her diagnosis, she packed her bags for Camp Fantastic, a summer camp for children who have cancer or have recovered from it. At first, she was scared to go and didn’t want to meet kids who she thought were going to die or were losing their hair. But what she found was more than just a community of children going through similar struggles – she found hope.

Over the course of the week at camp, Snider was still getting chemotherapy, but she was also taking cooking classes, going to campfire, making jokes about cancer, and sharing her story with others who understood her struggles better than anyone else.

“It inspired me to keep fighting,” said Snider, now a cancer-free 19-year-old who is a counselor at the camp and is studying to become a pediatric oncology nurse. “I always tell everyone that Camp Fantastic helped me find my fight, because I was ready to give up before I came here.”

Twenty-five years after it started, Camp Fantastic continues to give kids the drive to keep fighting.

The camp was founded in 1983 when Tom and Sheila Baker, who lost their daughter, Julie, to lymphoma, were inspired to start a camp for children with cancer or who were three years past treatment. They approached John Dooley, the then-head of the Northern Virginia 4-H Center in Front Royal, Virginia, about holding the camp at the center. Doctors and nurses from the National Institutes of Health who treated Julie volunteered to oversee medical needs of the first cadre of 29 campers. Camp Fantastic was born.

Over the years, the organization has expanded its offerings to include camps for siblings of cancer patients, outings for cancer patients, and parent get-away weekends, but it still has the same original vision: give children battling cancer a place where they can just be kids.

One of the things that makes it so successful is the long-running partnership between the NIH, the Northern Virginia 4-H Center, and Special Love, the nonprofit the Bakers started that oversees the camp.

Campers at Camp Fantastic

“It inspired me to keep fighting,” one cancer survivor said of her time at Camp Fantastic. Held at the Northern Virginia 4-H Center, the camp has hosted more than 3,500 children over the past 36 years.

“Camp Fantastic was modeled after a traditional 4-H camping program and was intended to be a normal camping experience with medical support added to ensure that even children on active cancer treatment could participate,” said Dave Smith, the senior director of outreach and programs for Special Love. “We’re very proud of our 4-H roots and happy to be able to partner with the Northern Virginia 4-H Center, as well as Airfield 4-H Center in Wakefield, which hosts a spring family camp and a weekend for young adults.”

Clarke Construction is also helping to keep the camp thriving. It recently donated materials and labor to make a number of improvements to the camp’s facilities.

“Partnerships like this go to the heart of 4-H’s mission – to provide opportunities that help youth flourish,” said Jeremy Johnson, director of Virginia 4-H.

“I always love attending Camp Fantastic and seeing the smiles on the kid’s faces” said Tobin Smith, president of the Board of Directors of the Northern Virginia 4-H Educational Center. “The center takes great pride in being able to host this camp each year and to provide an authentic camping experience to this group of kids.”

At first glance, the camp does look like any other 4-H camp. There are boys cannonballing off the diving board, girls scrambling up rock climbing walls, and counselors leading groups to fishing tournaments and trying out Capital One’s virtual reality games.

But there is also a room full of medicine that that NIH stocks every day from its Bethesda, Maryland, headquarters. In another room, kids receive chemotherapy treatment between crafting classes. A small army of doctors and nurses are on hand, though they don’t wear scrubs and instead don goofy hats in the shape of lobsters or sharks. This year, as the campers were putting on a production of Sleeping Beauty, a handful of kids were in the back of the room getting medical treatment while watching the show.

Though there are many camps designed specifically for children with cancer, Camp Fantastic is unique because it accepts some of the sickest kids in the nation.

“The opportunity for kids to interact with their nurses and doctors in a fun environment is one of the many healing aspects of our joint programs with the Northern Virginia 4-H Education Center and Virginia Tech’s Virginia Cooperative Extension,” said Kathy Russell, Camp Fantastic medical administrator.

Virginia Tech President Tim Sands recently visited Camp Fantastic, where he met many of the kids who are battling cancer. The camp is run through a partnership with the National Institutes of Health, the Northern Virginia 4-H Center, and Special Love, the nonprofit that oversees the camp.

Unlike when the children are at school and their friends are uncomfortable asking questions about their treatment, when they see someone at camp who is bald or has a feeding tube, it makes the campers feel more like everyday kids.

“At school, kids don’t know what a g-tube is, they aren’t familiar with medical stuff, and they haven’t been through what I’ve been through,” said Henry G., a 7-year-old with a raspy voice who at one moment can speak about complex medical issues and the next sing his favorite camp song about burritos.

“It’s nice to be around people who understand,” said Colton K., who first met Henry at a local hospital when they were both going through chemotherapy. Colton and Henry used to run around the halls of the hospital, but this summer they got to spend time together splashing in the camp’s pool.

Over the course of the camp’s 36 years, more than 3,500 children have attended Camp Fantastic, and there are countless stories that have made a lasting impression on their fellow campers and counselors.

There is the child who just had his leg amputated and came to camp asking to learn how to ride a bike. By the end of the week, John Dooley, now the CEO of the Virginia Tech Foundation, was running alongside him, holding the boy up as he began pedaling on his own. There is the story of a girl on the verge of death who came to camp in a wheelchair but was dancing with her fellow campers by the end of the week. There are kids who have told the counselors that they are fighting cancer with all they’ve got just so they can get back to camp that summer.

“I had a kid tell me that he feels sorry for kids who don’t have cancer because they don’t get to come to camp,” said Jeremy Webb, who like many of the counselors, is a former camper and cancer survivor. “That’s how much it means to people.”

Jay Robinson came to camp as a 19-year-old fighting a brain tumor. He beat the cancer that year and came back as a counselor the following year – and hasn’t missed a year of camp since.

Like so many other counselors, Robinson said being around the kids fighting so hard buoys his spirits. The week of camp is long and exhausting for volunteers, but they are inspired by how determined the children are.

“They may have cancer, but cancer doesn’t have them,” said Robinson, who is on the board for both Special Love and 4-H.

Though the counselors give good advice, some of the best wisdom campers receive comes from fellow campers.

“I tell them to keep going because if you stop fighting, everyone else will stop fighting, too,” said Ellie W., a 9-year-old who, like so many of the children, seemed to be wise beyond her years.

She had more to say about her own cancer fight, but the campers were taking off their helmets and harnesses from the climbing wall exercise and headed to the swimming pool. She didn’t want to miss a minute of fun.

It was time to go be a kid.

Written by Zeke Barlow


Virginia Tech launches Feed the Future Senegal Youth in Agriculture project

Ya Cor Ndione, associate national director; Rick Rudd, head of the Department of Agricultural, Leadership, and Community Education; Megan Kyles, USAID/Senegal agriculture/nutrition specialist; Tom Archibald, project director and assistant professor in the Department of Agricultural, Leadership, and Community Education; Kathleen Jamison, professor emeritus and Extension specialist; Bineta Guisse, national director; Fatimata Kane, 4-H specialist; and Jeremy Johnson, state 4-H leader, Virginia 4-H, attend the program launch in Senegal.

Ya Cor Ndione, associate national director; Rick Rudd, head of the Department of Agricultural, Leadership, and Community Education; Megan Kyles, USAID/Senegal agriculture/nutrition specialist; Tom Archibald, project director and assistant professor in the Department of Agricultural, Leadership, and Community Education; Kathleen Jamison, professor emeritus and Extension specialist; Bineta Guisse, national director; Fatimata Kane, 4-H specialist; and Jeremy Johnson, state 4-H leader, Virginia 4-H, attend the program launch in Senegal.

Twenty miles east of Senegal’s capital city, hundreds of guests arrived in Senegal’s newest city, Diamniadio, for the grand event.

Youth photographers snapped pictures of the guests before they strolled down the green carpet. In fact, the stars of this event included the entire guest list — the dedicated volunteers, leaders, partners, and participants who support the engagement of Senegal’s youth in the country’s economic growth.

On May 22, the Center for International Research, Education, and Development (CIRED) officially launched its newest project, Feed the Future Senegal Jeunesse en Agriculture (Youth in Agriculture), at the Centre International de Conférences Abdou Diouf in Diamniadio.

Funded by USAID, the five-year, $4 million project will carry on the work of the CIRED-led Education and Research in Agriculture (ERA) project in Senegal by expanding 4-H clubs across the country and institutionalizing positive youth development (PYD) nationally. The project will also work with vocational training institutions to strengthen their connections to private-sector actors and markets, including the piloting of innovative approaches for creating entrepreneurship and income-generating opportunities for youth.

Youth who work with the ERA project hosted the ceremony, which featured adult and youth speakers representing Virginia Tech, USAID/Senegal, and the government of Senegal, as well as Senegalese agricultural institutions and women’s food processing platforms. Guests were also treated to video highlights, commemorative photos, and a “wall of fame,” a display in which participants wrote messages in support of the project. Staff from Virginia Cooperative Extension were on hand to provide support for many of the activities.

“With a focus on the next generation of farmers and agricultural entrepreneurs, Feed the Future Senegal Jeunesse en Agriculture will help build a prosperous future for all Senegalese,” said Kitty Andang, USAID/Senegal deputy mission director, during the ceremony. “Jeunesse en Agriculture will increase youth participation in Senegal’s economic growth by implementing a positive youth development program, already launched as part of the first phase of Feed the Future in Senegal.”

In 2015, the 4-H Senegal PYD program was established in Toubacouta, south of the capital of Dakar, as part of the ERA project. Modeled after the 4-H Youth Development program of the Cooperative Extension Service and land-grant university system in the U.S., the 4-H program in Senegal has already attracted more than 600 members.

“With the launch of Feed the Future Senegal Jeunesse en Agriculture, CIRED redoubles its commitment to helping youth around the world to become thriving, confident, and skilled actors in economic growth,” said Van Crowder, executive director of CIRED, part of Outreach and International Affairs. “Jeunesse en Agriculture is another testament of CIRED’s commitment to link Virginia Tech to the world through innovative research, partnership, and collaboration.”

“This project fits squarely within the priorities of the government of Senegal and of USAID, both of which realize the importance of engaging young people in positive youth development and agricultural entrepreneurship. As a result, this launch event has generated a lot of buzz, and expectations are high,” said Tom Archibald, project director and assistant professor. “We really look forward to achieving meaningful positive impacts in the lives of thousands of young people across Senegal, which can also provide lessons to share with other development projects across West Africa and around the globe.”

Fatou Diouf, a student at the Institute for Advanced Agricultural and Rural Training in Bambey, Senegal, and a member of 4-H Senegal, delivered an impassioned speech during the ceremony. “We are proud to celebrate the launch of the project, because we remain convinced that a project cannot be more useful than one that serves humanity,” Diouf said. “This ambitious program, implemented by passionate and unselfish actors, is a model for the path to development.”

Jeunesse en Agriculture will remain housed under ERA during the project’s first year. Subsequently, the project headquarters will be embedded within the Ministry of Higher Education, Research, and Innovation’s new offices in Diamniadio as well as in the regional offices of the national PYD program within universities.

– Written by April Raphiou


Red salamander named official salamander of Virginia, thanks to 4-H group

red salamander

Did you know Virginia has more than 40 emblems that represent the state’s cultural heritage and natural resources, including the beloved northern cardinal, big-eared bat, tiger swallowtail butterfly, and nelsonite, the official rock of Virginia.

Recently, another state emblem was signed into law – the red salamander (Pseudotriton ruber). The species is now Virginia’s official state salamander. The striking crimson amphibian was selected because of its beautiful coloration, widespread distribution throughout the commonwealth, and its ability to raise awareness about the conservation of a species whose reclusive habits make it difficult for many people to appreciate them.

Del. Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Fairfax, sponsored the bill at the urging of young conservationists affiliated with Salamander Savers, an ecological-minded 4-H group in the city whose members range in age from 8 to 18. The youth, who also received support from the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, the Virginia Herpetological Society, and many naturalists and teachers, have been working for two years to raise awareness about salamanders.

“I am excited to introduce these bright young activists to the civic process,” Filler-Corn told WHSV.com news. “It is my hope that this is just the beginning of their engagement with government and that they will continue their advocacy for years to come.”

4-H is the youth development education program of Virginia Cooperative Extension. Through 4-H, young people are encouraged to participate in a variety of activities that emphasize 4-H’s “learning by doing” philosophy of youth development. Administered through the state’s land-grant universities, Virginia Tech and Virginia State University, 4-H is the first experience many young people have with higher education.

The Salamander Savers experienced many challenges along the way. Last year, the 4-H’ers visited the capitol in Richmond more than seven times to meet with legislators. Each trip took about six hours. The students even drew pictures of the salamander on cards, delivering them to lawmakers as part of their lobbying effort.

The bill passed 96-1 in the House of Delegates and 39-1 by the Senate.

This 4-H group was founded in response to the dredge of a Fairfax lake in 2015. Three children were inspired to save the salamanders from the surrounding lake, appealing to local government officials for help. The 4-H members attended meetings, advocated in front of adults, and fought to save the lake’s vernal pools.

“When our lake was dredged, my kids asked me questions that I wasn’t able to answer. As a home-schooling mother, I was determined to try to find answers to their questions,” said Anna Kim, the 4-H club’s adult leader, and mother of Jonah Kim, 14, the club’s president.

In addition, Kim said that her son wanted to give a voice to the animals who could not speak for themselves.

“We chose the red salamander because it lives throughout Virginia,” said the younger Kim. “We thought it was easily recognizable and would be interesting to people who have never seen a salamander.”

The amphibian is a member of the Plethodontidae family, a group of lungless salamanders that breathe through their skin. Because of their unique respiration, their environment needs to be free of toxins or they will absorb the pollutants through their skin. By bringing attention to the red salamander, Salamander Savers members hope to raise awareness about the 56 species that reside in Virginia.

—  Written by Amy Painter


Virginia Tech professor and 4-H youth team up to establish Community and 4-H Center in Senegal

4-H Senegal members help bring food to the new center in Santamba.

4-H Senegal members help bring food to the new center in Santamba.

After years of fundraising and collaboration, the Samuel and Eleanor Morris Community and 4-H Center has been established in Santamba, Senegal, an inland village in the southern region, just above the Gambia.

The center, designed to benefit the entire community, will become a place for youth and adults to develop leadership skills and move forward together.

The center was made possible through the work and financial support of many, including the Morris family, the Virginia 4-H program, the USAID Education and Research in Agriculture (ERA) project management team, and Virginia Tech College of Agriculture and Life Sciences professor Ozzie Abaye, whose participation was instrumental. For Abaye, her work with the Santamba community was inspired by her parents and mentors, Samuel and Eleanor Morris, for whom the center was named.

“They dedicated their lives to public service and emphasized education as the tool for successful individual development and community-building,” said Abaye, explaining why her parents were a perfect fit for the naming of the center.

The center, which will serve around 300 people, is designed as a venue for a variety of social and business activities, providing a meeting room and a food preparation space. It will meet the needs of the Santamba community and will be led by a community-elected management team.

The center will also be key to the continued development of 4-H Senegal as a safe space for youth to gather and learn. 4-H Senegal was established to motivate young people to understand agriculture, to be involved in family farms, and to join in with their communities. The program was officially launched two years ago and now has a home in the center.

Katlyn Smith, a Virginia Tech student interested in youth development, saw the potential for a 4-H program early on. Smith traveled to Senegal with Abaye.

“I feel that 4-H is really going to help bring the community together, and I know the youth are going to be so appreciative to have something like 4-H to participate in,” Smith said following her trip to Senegal.

While there, she worked with children, playing games, gardening, and leading community service projects. This work was central to the early stages of 4-H Senegal.

When efforts on the Senegal project began, the center captured the hearts of Virginia 4-H’ers. The 4-H youth selected “Cents for Senegal” as their 2016 State 4-H Congress charity campaign – an effort that would become the group’s highest grossing youth campaign, more than doubling the initial goal. This was largely because of the personal connections many 4-H’ers made with Bineta Guisse, the Senegalese 4-H coordinator and outreach officer who visited Virginia during last year’s 4-H Congress.

Guisse’s visit was so impactful that one 4-H’er was inspired to donate all proceeds from the sale of her 4-H lamb project. Elizabeth Koranek from Madison County donated $2,331 after learning about the Senegalese woman’s hopes for the center.

Virginia 4-H’ers showed their dedication to their peers in Senegal while demonstrating the impact young people can make. The Virginia 4-H funds were used to pour cement, paint the center, and plant trees.

The Samuel and Eleanor Morris Community and 4-H Center is advancing the efforts of USAID/ERA, Virginia Tech’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Virginia Cooperative Extension, and Virginia 4-H. For the village of Santamba, the center will be a home for education and community.

— Written by Caroline Sutphin