Quiet Leadership

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Mississippi 4-H’er receives prestigious recognition

Story by Rhiannon Page • Photos by Kevin Hudson

While volunteering is nothing new for Rankin County 4-H’er Abbye Buchanan, her participation as lead ambassador for 4-H in the Red Cross Totes for Hope campaign is an experience that stands out from the rest. At just 13 years old, Abbye was chosen as one of two recipients of the 2021 Prudential Spirit of Community Award in Mississippi.

Before she joined 4-H, Abbye says she was shy and quiet. Being part of the 4-H youth development program, delivered by the Mississippi State University Extension Service, helped her become more comfortable in social settings.

“I’ve made a lot of friendships through 4-H. I’ve got respect for others and a good work ethic. I used to be really shy, and now I can go and talk to people,” Abbye says.

Heather Jennings, Extension agent in Rankin County, has worked with Abbye since she joined 4-H in 2015.

“Abbye is a very quiet leader. She always keeps others on track, and she is very caring,” Jennings explains. “She always makes sure that no one is alone or feels left out of anything. She is that glue that holds her club together.”

Abbye, a freshman at Florence High School, is not new to volunteering. Before her work with the Red Cross Totes for Hope campaign, she participated in and helped lead volunteer events through 4-H, including pet supply drives and fundraisers for Blair E. Batson Children’s Hospital.

The Totes for Hope campaign was different, though.

The Central Mississippi Hub for Volunteers and Nonprofits worked with Rankin County 4-H to make the campaign and donation drive possible. 4-H’ers led the drive to collect personal care items to fill tote bags, which were then distributed by the VA Medical Center in Jackson to veterans in Mississippi.

Abbye posted information on the 4-H and Central Mississippi Hub Facebook pages and in her church bulletin about two upcoming drop-off days. Over those 2 days, the campaign received more than 1,800 toiletry items.

Because of her successful work on the campaign, Jennings encouraged Abbye to apply for the 2021 Prudential Spirit of Community Award, a national youth recognition program based on community service. With her agent’s nomination, she applied; then, she forgot about it.

Weeks later, Abbye’s mom, Erin Buchanan, heard a knock on the door.

“The FedEx man dropped off a box with a medal in it saying Abbye was chosen as one of two honorees for the state,” Erin Buchanan says.

According to Prudential’s website, state honorees receive a $2,500 scholarship, an engraved silver medallion, and an invitation to the program’s virtual national recognition events.

“I was excited. It meant a lot because there were only two winners, and I wasn’t sure how many people signed up,” Abbye remembers with a laugh. “I was freaked out because I didn’t expect to get it.”

Abbye credits 4-H for her ability to build communication skills and create relationships and connections with people. She says 4-H creates an environment that fosters socializing and breaking out of comfort zones. She encourages other young people to join 4-H because of its wide range of activities and experiences.

“4-H is much more than just raising animals,” she says. “You get to do service projects and other fun things like shooting sports, summer workshops, grilling competitions, and Project Achievement Day. I think that every young person should take advantage of 4-H. It has a lot to offer.”

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