Although it’s a Saturday in March, Hillsborough County 4-H members enjoy a special opportunity: a meal and lively discussion with local elected officials. The event, held at Milford Middle School, is 4-H County Presentation Day. It is one of 10 statewide 4-H events throughout the month bringing together 45 legislators and 85 teenaged 4-H’ers with a common goal: building civically engaged youth and the human social capital needed to make change in New Hampshire communities.
Kate Guerdat, state 4-H leader and youth development specialist for Extension, emphasizes the importance of this experience. “Our spring 4-H local legislative events are designed to educate youth about their county government, and it’s an opportunity for legislators to learn from youth about issues they see as critical. Legislative events provide a space for elected leaders to help us grow our next generation of leaders.”
A Lively Civil Discourse
After presentations end at the Hillsborough County event, legislators join 4-H members for lunch. Jeff Santer, a longtime 4-H volunteer and youth leadership team leader, then facilitates a group discussion. The first topic? The importance of civil discourse. Legislators share experiences from the State House, where the skill of communicating in a civil manner makes their jobs easier.
“When we disagree, I have to remember who I am working for. I have to remind myself that I am working to do the most good for the people in my district, and civil discourse is important to those goals,” says Ruth Ward, a state senator from Stoddard. “Getting along doesn’t mean you have to agree all the time,” adds representative Jim Belanger of Hollis. “We should all get along.”
The Plastic Debate
Bedford representative Linda Camarota raises the topic of a recently presented bill, HB 558, which restricts the use of plastic straws. Representative J.P. Marzullo from Deering follows with HB 560, which restricts the use of single-use plastic bags—both controversial topics in local communities.
“Maybe it could be a compromise. Like, if you want a straw you can ask for one, but they shouldn’t be handed out automatically,” says 4-H’er Sarah Hill. Amherst state senator Shannon Chandley notes Hill could have saved legislators significant debate time with her suggestion.
Other 4-H’ers suggest looking into biodegradable bags and alternative materials for straws that make less of an impact on the environment—ideas that are noted for their creativity and entrepreneurial potential.
“I’m so happy to hear that our senators and representatives feel that New Hampshire’s future is in good hands with the young people they’ve met and talked to,” says Hillsborough County 4-H program manager Jolee Chase.
Brookline state senator Melanie Levesque echoes those sentiments as she addresses the 4-H’ers during the culmination of the day’s activities. “If you are our future, then our future is bright,” she says.
Thank you to all of the representatives and senators who were able to attend this event.