Marisa Laudadio and Tony Laudadio, sibilings from Alcorn County, perform, while jostling for position with their violins, to a crowd of nearly 700 Thursday night at a talent show hosted by the annual 4-H State Congress on the campus of Mississippi State University. Photo by: Micah Green/Dispatch Staff
June 1, 2012 11:24:05 AM
Teenagers from across the state gathered on the campus of Mississippi State University this week for the 2012 4-H State Congress hosted by the MSU Extension Service.
This year, the congress drew nearly 700 youth, volunteers and extension agents, many of whom, officials hope, might one day attend MSU.
Efforts to ensure the event is flawless for those participating are always first priority, said Interim State Program Leader Paula Threadgill, who provides administrative leadership to the statewide 4-H program. But she noted neither MSU nor the city of Starkville walk away from the experience empty handed.
Students who attend the 4-H Congress range in age from 13 to 18, making them prime targets for MSU recruiting. Threadgill said even though recruiting is not a priority at the event, it is definitely a by-product.
"There are some kids here this week, who have never set foot on a college campus," she said. "The impression we give them could be the only one they ever get, so we have to present ourselves with that in our heads."
The technique may be paying off. State 4-H President Rachel Gaines said she made the decision to attend MSU years ago at her first 4-H Congress.
"By the end of the first Congress I came to, I knew I didn't want to go anywhere else. It was the biggest promoter in my decision for sure," she said.
Gaines, of Coldwater, will enroll at MSU in the fall with a full scholarship.
Deborah Munn, of Pontotoc, whose daughter participates in 4-H, praised the university's facilities and said if a member has been with 4-H long enough, MSU is the obvious choice.
"This university has been a part of some of these kids' lives, through 4-H, for eight years or more," she said. "Mississippi State promoting this event is just them investing in the youth of the state."
Jennifer Gregory, vice president of tourism development for the Greater Starkville Development Partnership, said the economic impact the conference has on Starkville is hard to quantify. Since MSU provides on-campus lodging for the conference, the hotels, which would normally see increased revenue with a temporary invasion of 700 people, are left with a standard week.
Gregory said the real reward lies in selling the image of the city for the future and she thinks conferences, like the 4-H Congress, give Starkville a great opportunity to do so.
"The biggest benefit to the community is just the chance to showcase Starkville to such a large group of students," Gregory said. "We know how many students decide on a university based on the town and its atmosphere. It's a huge determining factor."
After the spring semester ends in May and most MSU students have headed home for the summer, Starkville businesses can suffer. Gregory said events, like the 4-H Congress, play a big role in keeping stores open, during the students' absence.
"This week, the sponsors and chaperones have had chances to venture out, while the kids are in workshops and classes. We have seen a good many of them on Main Street, shopping and eating," she said. "The summers are so slow around here. A lot of business owners rely on these brief visitors."
In addition to fostering connections between 4-H members, the annual Congress gives the state's 4-H program an opportunity to elect officers for the upcoming year. Participants can also submit projects for competition, attend workshops and tour the campus. The week is capped off by a talent show and awards ceremony, where newly elected 4-H officials are announced.
Munn said the university's involvement in 4-H can really make a difference in a child's life.
"They are giving these kids an opportunity to advance in something that they are interested in. A lot of these skills are going to be really useful later when they go to college or out on their own, getting a job," she said.
For information on 4-H programs, contact LaTrell Spokes at the Oktibbeha County Extension Service Office at 662-323-5916.