For 60 energized 4-Hers, Wednesday April 26 was not just the mid-point of their school vacation week, it was a day for civic engagement at the State House in Concord during the first New Hampshire 4-H Citizenship Day.
The visit began with a stop in the House chamber, the oldest continuously used legislative chamber in the country. The 4-Hers were welcomed by UNH Cooperative Extension Dean and Director Ken La Valley and Representatives Terry Wolf (Asst. Majority Whip), Jim Belanger, John O’Connor, and Michael Vose. The group asked questions, then engaged in a mock debate on whether or not driver’s education should be free.
From there, it was onto the Senate’s chamber, where Virginia Drew, the director of the visitors’ center, reminded the group that they are always welcome to sit on legislative sessions — and that students who do are customarily acknowledged by their respective senator.
“These are your seats,” she said. “The seats of the people.”
A mazelike walk from the statehouse to the legislative office building allowed for a chance encounter with Senator Dan Feltes, the state’s youngest senator.
“Anything you do to participate in our democracy is seen and heard and makes an impact,” he told the rapt group. “We need you all engaged. Pick up the phone, attend hearings, testify, run for office. Have your voice heard.”
The morning’s activities culminated with meeting the Speaker of the House, Representative Shawn Jasper, a 4-H alum who credits his experience with helping him be a successful legislator.
“When we work together, we can accomplish our goals,” he told the group. “That’s an important thing I learned in 4-H.”
A highlight of the day was lunch in the State House cafeteria with many senators and representatives in attendance. The 4-H members had the opportunity to sit with legislators and engage in frank conversation about issues of concern to them. Michele King, Cooperative Extension youth and family program coordinator and the event’s organizer, says she was truly humbled by the level of engagement on the part of legislators and youth alike.
Following lunch, the youth learned about the complex legislative process from David Aulukonis, acting director of the Office of Legislative Services. They wrapped up the day with a tour of the New Hampshire State Library, the nation’s oldest state library.
At the end of the day, many 4-Hers expressed interest in getting more involved in their community government, taking on more leadership roles in my county 4-H program and encouraging others to get more involved.
The New Hampshire 4-H Program, a program of UNH Cooperative Extension, strives to develop young people who are engaged and informed citizens. Programs like 4-H Citizenship Day intentionally connect youth to their government so they understand how government works and their role in civic affairs.
New Hampshire’s 4-H youth development program builds valuable lifelong skills in science, healthy living and leadership through clubs, camps, in-school and after-school activities. If you, or someone you know, would be interested in joining or volunteering for 4-H, please contact the 4-H coordinator in your county Cooperative Extension office.