Henning Tuininga is only 15 years old, but he already knows that good food made with kindness can change lives. A member of Strafford County 4-H, he recently led an effort to make homemade chicken soup for women and children at an emergency domestic and sexual violence shelter in Dover.
“Not many people know about it because it’s hidden,” explains Tuininga. “It makes it hard for them to get donations. Our leader dropped off the meals and blankets at their office and they got them to the house.”
Life can be really rough, but sometimes just a warm bowl of soup makes things better.
Tuininga’s project was part of Strafford County 4-H’s Day of Caring event. More than 20,000 New Hampshire youth participate in 4-H, a statewide youth development program run by University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension. Tuininga is the secretary of his county’s Youth Leadership Team (YLT), a select group of youth who design and implement community action projects.
A recent $15,000 gift from an anonymous donor to support YLT members and volunteers makes projects like Tuininga’s possible. YLT activities focus on helping members develop life skills like responsibility, respect and planning — the sort of qualities necessary for a large-scale cooking project.
Why make soup? It’s partly practical, Tuininga explains. “Soup is easy to transport, contain and reheat. It’s also is cheap to make.” But, he adds, there’s something special about a bowl of hearty, homemade soup, especially for families in a difficult situation and living in an unfamiliar place.
“Life can be really rough, but sometimes just a warm bowl of soup makes things better,” he says.
Though he cooks meals for his family at their home in Milton and works as a part-time prep cook at Little Miss Sophie’s Country Kitchen in Rochester, Tuininga had never tackled a project like this. He and his fellow YLT members recruited friends and younger 4-H members to help prepare and deliver the soup. “We needed something everyone could help make,” he says. “There were tons of vegetables to wash and chop, and we had chickens to clean.”
Tuininga’s project was one of many community outreach projects organized by 4-H YLT members. No matter their scale, the projects reflect the 4-H pledge, which is recited at the beginning of every meeting: “I pledge my head to clearer thinking, my heart to greater loyalty, my hands to larger service, and my health to better living, for my club, my community, my country, and my world.”
It’s a philosophy that Tuininga’s taken to heart, whether he’s in the kitchen advancing his budding culinary career or helping others in his community. “I want people to think of me as someone who will help them with whatever they need. And I want them to say I was nice,” he says. He’s off to a good start.