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4-H president uses tradition to make technology work
By Patti Drapala
MSU Ag Communications
TUPELO -- Mississippi 4-H Council President Chelsi Smith is a modern young woman who uses computers, PDAs and texting to reach members, yet relies on traditional 4-H values to make these tools effective.
Chelsi, an 18-year-old graduating senior at Saltillo High School, has built an astounding track record of community service for such a young person. During her year as council president, she used the videoconferencing capabilities of the Mississippi State University Extension Service to bring leaders of the four 4-H districts together for virtual meetings. She has also worked with youth at county livestock shows and been involved with many nonprofit organizations in Lee County that champion society’s underprivileged.
“4-H has changed with the times, and the new projects with robotics, engineering, technology and science are quite exciting,” Chelsi said. “I hope we don’t lose focus of the traditions that started 4-H, particularly the livestock projects that I dearly love, because they instill responsibility, respect and a sense of wonder for life.”
Chelsi’s parents, Sherry and Mike Smith, of Guntown, raised their daughter to have purpose, compassion and vision. Sherry Smith, director of the Lee County Extension Office, was a 4-H youth agent when Chelsi was a child. Mike Smith, a cattle producer, encouraged his daughter to work the cattle with him.
“When I served as 4-H youth agent, I really promoted involvement to children and parents,” said Sherry Smith. “I took Chelsi to just about every meeting I ran when she was a child, and she didn’t have much of a choice but to participate in 4-H as a result.”
Encouraged by her mother and father, Chelsi accomplished much on her own in 4-H. By age 10, she had begun to show beef cattle as part of her participation in the 4-H livestock project. She had a favorite little heifer that performed well in the showmanship ring. The two were a winning team, often bringing home the blue ribbon.
The heifer died unexpectedly, and her month-old calf struggled to survive. Mike Smith told his daughter it was now her responsibility to care for the animal.
“Dad made me promise I would bottle-feed the calf, and I made sure I fed her three times a day,” Chelsi said. “We bonded, and even as she got bigger, she would play with me as if she were that small calf. When we competed together, she turned out to be as good as her mother.”
As she grew up, Chelsi took part in other 4-H activities. One of her favorites was the citizenship project.
“Citizenship is a never-ending cycle of 4-H teaching you to give, and then you give 4-H your best,” she said. “I enjoyed helping children improve their reading skills and teaching them the importance of friendship.”
Chelsi soon began participating in other civic projects with United Way, Students Against Drunk Driving and S.A.F.E., which is a shelter for battered and abused women. Her youth agent, Beth Randall, felt that Smith’s volunteerism should be recognized, and nominated Chelsi for a Jefferson Award.
The Jefferson Awards recognize outstanding community volunteers. Smith’s record so impressed the judges that she became one of five Jefferson Award finalists representing North Mississippi. At 18, she was considerably younger than the other finalists.
“Chelsi exudes leadership, a love for helping others and a positive attitude,” Randall said. “When we were notified in March that she was one of the finalists, it was a big surprise because she is so young, and the experience for her and for us was very rewarding and reassuring.”
A 4-H project close to Chelsi’s heart is establishing Campus Clover Connection, a virtual meeting place, or teleconferencing opportunity, for 4-H officers at the state and district level.
“Using modern technology is a great way for leaders to meet because it can accommodate people’s schedules and minimize traveling time,” Chelsi said. “I also worked with MSU department heads who met with us and told us about various majors their departments offered. The department heads felt this was a great recruiting tool for Mississippi State.”
Chelsi said she would like to see the next 4-H president continue the clover connection and also create other communication tools.
“I hope young people in 4-H continue to find new ways to make a difference,” she said.
Contact: Sherry Smith, (662) 841-9000