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Students gain understanding of government through 4-H Congress
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Warren County students attending 4-H Congress and meeting with state Sen. Janice Bowling are, first row from left, Molly Dodd and Marynia Harris. Back row, Rayton Bell, Jaden Mertz, Hannah Sanders, Ethan Hitchcock, Sen. Bowling, Emily Pennington, Claire Brooks and Caroline Brooks.

For 72 years, Tennessee 4-H members have participated in Tennessee 4-H Congress. This year’s event was held March 17-21 in Nashville, with the theme “Roadmap to Success.” 

Congress gives 4-H'ers the opportunity to learn about the day-to-day functioning of state government by assuming the roles of state representatives and senators. Since its beginning in 1948, 4-H Congress has given some 35,000 4-H'ers and volunteer leaders firsthand experience in state government.

Approximately 400 high school  4-H’ers from all over the state met to become legislators and form a junior state Congress. While in session, youth had opportunity to debate and vote on youth-oriented bills in the House and Senate Chambers. In addition to learning about government and their state capitol, delegates competed in public speaking, poster and essay contests. Portfolio finalists competed in leadership and citizenship projects for college scholarships and a trip to National 4-H Congress in Atlanta. 

The Warren County group consisted of Hannah Sanders, Molly Dodd, Rayton Bell and Jaden Mertz as official Congress delegates. 

Marynia Harris, Ethan Hitchcock and Emily Pennington attended as Citizenship and Leadership portfolio finalists. Harris won Citizenship Level II, garnering her an opportunity to attend National 4-H Congress. She also received a silver bowl and scholarship for her portfolio. Linda Dodd attended as the adult volunteer. 

Delegates also met with state Rep. Paul Sherrell and state Sen. Janice Bowling to learn about local government and bill proposals. 4-H members also had the opportunity to meet Gov. Bill Lee, who was an active 4-H member in Williamson County, attending 4-H Congress, Roundup, and National 4-H Congress.

“Tennessee 4-H Congress is one of the highlights for our 4-H program,” said Shay Davis, Warren County 4-H agent. “The event helps youth better understand government and the legislative process and how they can be a part of this citizenship experience in order to make a difference.”

Delegates voted in an election for the roles of Tennessee 4-H Governor, Speaker of the House, and Speaker of the Senate. Rayton Bell ran for Governor and Molly Dodd ran for Speaker of the House. Claire Brooks was elected as the 2018-2019 4-H Speaker of the Senate and returned to 4-H Congress to bid her farewell.

The theme for the 2019 Tennessee 4-H Congress service project is "Our Hands to Larger Service." Delegates are being challenged to donate school supplies to benefit students in Murfreesboro City Schools district.

It was noted that in 2017-18, 4-H’ers statewide performed 627,396 hours of volunteer service at an estimated value of $12.6 million.

4-H is the Youth Development program for UT Extension. 4-H teaches leadership, citizenship and service learning to more than 179,000 youth in grades 4-12. 4-H also has more than 5,000 adult volunteers.