October 27, 2004 | By: Laura Skillman

Young people are making their voices heard and are understanding the importance of community service through the 4-H Youth in Governance project in Christian County.

Through the program, several youth in the county serve as nonvoting members on local boards including the chamber of commerce, economic development council and museum board. 

Toni Riley, Christian County Extension agent for 4-H Youth Development, said she applied for a Youth in Governance grant from the National 4-H Council and Land O’Lakes company along with three other counties.

“The purpose of the grant is to build youth-adult partnerships and have youth serve on boards of directors and we were able to accomplish that,” she said. ‘’I’m very pleased with what they’ve been able to do. These teenagers do a lot of work. I’m very proud of them.”

4-H is a community of young people across America learning leadership, citizenship and life skills.

Participants attended two different youth-adult partnership workshops, and then they set up a core committee and determined how to approach different boards in the community. The civic groups were very receptive to having youth as ex officio members and at least one is looking to put them on as full voting members in the near future, Riley said.

Kathleen O’Hagan and Katie Fort, seniors at Hopkinsville High School , are ex officio members of the museum board.

Fort said she didn’t know anything about it but had toured the museum since she was a child and finds the behind-the-scenes inner workings interesting.

 “We are not allowed to vote, but if we have something to say, they will listen to us and take it into consideration,” O’Hagan said.

“They ask our opinion on more modern things, like technology,” Fort said. “Like last time, they asked our help on a media projector and we had an insight.”

Both teens said they have learned a lot about their community and the activities going on at the museum as well as the passion and efforts put forth by community members.

“We’re right in the middle of this and it’s really amazing,” O’Hagan said.

Donna Stone, museum director, said the students help to broaden the board’s perspective.

“We are starting now to ask them more of their opinions,” Stone said. “They are contributing.” 

David Fernandez, museum board chairman, likes having the young people’s ideas and input. It also allows them to see people in other roles such as a teacher outside the classroom.

“They are really getting a feel for what it’s like in the outside world,” he said. “I think this adds to their growth.”

After their year is up, the board will review their roles and likely make them voting members, Stone said.

Hopkinsville High School senior Megan Wimpy and Jarelle Goforth, a junior at University HeightsAcademy , are on the Christian County-Hopkinsville Chamber of Commerce. Both students say they think their viewpoints are listened to by other members.

Goforth made the original pitch to the chamber about the Youth in Governance program and has felt like a part of the group since the beginning.

“They just embraced me and Megan and they try their best to help us understand,” she said. “This expands your horizons and broadens your understanding of the community.”

Elizabeth Riley, a junior at Christian County High , serves on the economic development council.

Riley said she has learned about air quality and its impact on economic development, mega industrial sites and other aspects of recruiting and retaining industries in the community.

In addition to serving on their respective boards, four of the 4-H youth voiced their concern after learning a local youth issues committee working on plans for a water park that had no youth representatives.

Riley said she asked the deputy mayor how many youth were on the committee and was told none and asked if she would like to be.

“I said not necessarily me but someone from our group,” she said.

Wimpy and two others later met with the mayor and now she and O’Hagan are serving on the committee and have attended their first meeting. Issues at that meeting focused on dropout rates, truancy and other youth problems.

“Some adults think all teens are like that and I don’t want them to think I’m like that,” Wimpy said.

By serving on these committees, she said, they hope to broaden their minds as well as to broaden the minds of adults about the contributions youth can make.



Writer: Laura Skillman 270-365-7541 ext. 278
Source: Toni Riley, 270-886-6328