4-H makes a difference
By Jessie Furnish
4-H & Youth Development Educator
4-H members are learning the importance of giving all year long through community service projects. Community service is an important component of the 4-H program, teaching members that being involved and giving back to their community helps keep the community thriving. Some of the Cleveland County's most predominant service projects include the HUGS project and Meals on Wheels Dog Food Project.
The HUGS project is a non-profit organization that was initially started in Oklahoma by Ray and Karen Stark when they learned of the stifling conditions our troops must endure while servicing in the Middle East. In the summer temperatures can reach 140 degree Fahrenheit and in the winter drop to -40 degrees Fahrenheit. The HUGS project began by sending cool ties, which absorb water and are worn around the neck to help cool the body, to the troops overseas. These cool ties are appropriately named hugs, since they wrap around a person's neck like a real hug. Since the HUGS project was started in 2004, the organization has grown to sending a whole list of products overseas including everything from Advil to batteries to books to socks, gum and homemade cookies.
Kaylee Young from the Cleveland Clovers 4-H Club began working with the HUGS project in 2010. She initially just went to the headquarters, located in Crossroads Mall, a few times a week to help write cards and stuff boxes. Since then Kaylee has made this project her own by using 4-H to help collect and make items to send overseas. Thus far Kaylee has collected and made over 50,000 items valued over $5,000 to be shipped to our troops. She has done this in a variety of ways; however, the most successful have been setting up in front of Sam's Club with a list of items that the HUGS project needs and then as people come out they simply drop off the items. Kaylee also sets up workshops through 4-H to have youth sew the cool ties, stockings, and water bottle cooling apparatuses. Kaylee also is known to simply take a carload of 4-H members with her up to HUGS project headquarters to show them what the difference they can make.
Another Cleveland County 4-H community service star is Jessica Morrow, who works with the Meals on Wheels in Norman. No, Jessica does not take food to needy Norman citizens. Jessica doesn't have a driver's license yet, so that would be a little tricky. Jessica's contribution is collecting and bagging pet food for the patrons of Meals on Wheels who also have cats or dogs. Since Jessica has taken over the Meals on Wheels project in 2008, she has collected 4,783 pounds of pet food that has reached 9,589 people and pets.
The Meals on Wheels project was started by another 4-H member, Haley Armstrong, who has since graduated from the program. Haley learned that those benefiting from Meals on Wheels who also owned a pet were giving part of their meal to their furry friends. For some people this was their only meal of the day and the thought of not being able to eat all of it just did not sit right with Haley. She started collecting pet food and pet toys to be delivered with the Meals on Wheels food.