By STEVEN NALLEY
At the 2011 State 4-H Congress at Mississippi State University, one of the many presentation contests was focused on horticulture and gardening. Within that competition, D.J. Failla, a 17-year old from Picayune, was not the only student focusing on roses.
It was the story behind Failla’s project that set him apart. When one of the judges asked Failla why he had taken up rose gardening, Failla said he was glad the judge asked.
“I have a girlfriend now,” Failla said, eliciting laughter from fellow students and judges alike. “So, I went to Winn-Dixie to get her a rose, and the roses cost me $6 to $9. I immediately developed an interest in growing my own roses.”
Approximately 750 4-H members, volunteers and MSU extension agents from across the state gathered for the State 4-H Congress Wednesday to compete in contests, attend workshops, meet new people and have fun.
The event runs through Friday, and at 10:45 a.m that day at the Lee Hall auditorium, Mississippi 4-H will formally announce a new partnership with United Healthcare called “Youth Voice: Youth Choice.” The partnership will provide Mississippi 4-H with more than $45,000 in grant resources for programs to help youth improve their health. Also, nearly 1,200 4-H student youth leaders and 4-H supporters will learn health tips and take part in a fitness exercise led by MSU athletic instructors and UHC mascot Dr. Health E. Hound.
Other highlights of the 4-H Congress include a keynote speech by 4-H Youth Development Specialist John Paul Murphy on Wednesday and a dance for 4-H members tonight. Members have the opportunity to attend a broad range of workshops and tours, from modern line dance and job search preparation workshops to tours of MSU’s Center for Advanced Vehicular Science and the MSU Creamery. Equally diverse are the contests, including tractor driving, public speaking, robotics, entomology and horticulture.
Christina Meriweather, an MSU extension agent from Leflore County, said youths had to win contests at the county level to advance to the state-level 4-H Congress. She said some, but not all, of the state-level contests allow the winners to advance to the National 4-H Congress in Atlanta on Nov. 24.
Meriweather said different students at 4-H Congress cite different reasons for working to reach state level.
“Some kids are going to say it’s to meet other people from across the state and nation, to develop new skills, career exploration, or developing leadership skills,” Meriweather said.
She said this diversity is reflected in the contests and the day-to-day operations of 4-H. While 4-H organizations fall under the umbrellas of land-grant institutions, she said, they are not limited to the agricultural studies those institutions are known for.
“We cover science, engineering, technology and mathematics,” Meriweather said. “We’ve got something for everyone. We’ve met the needs of our clientele as they’ve changed.”
That said, there is a perennial favorite among youth at the 4-H Congress, said Laura Giaccaglia, an MSU extension agent from Bolivar County.
“The dance, the kids love the dance,” Giaccaglia said. “We agents fret over it, but the youth love the dance.”