More than 500 teens, volunteer leaders, and Virginia Cooperative Extension agents will gather on Virginia Tech’s Blacksburg campus next week for the 95th annual Virginia 4-H State Congress. This year’s theme, “Living the Legacy – 4-H Forever,” draws on the history of 4-H and demonstrates the power of 4-H to assist teens in developing leadership, citizenship, and life skills through hands-on educational programs.

A special guest during the June 15-18 congress is Taylor Ray Holbrook, a singer who competed on the popular TV shows “The Voice” and “American Idol.” Holbrook, a former 4-H'er from Lee County, Virginia, began pursuing a music career after he was seriously injured on the job as a lumberjack. After achieving Internet fame on the social media platform Vine, Holbrook competed on season 14 of “American Idol” and season eight of “The Voice.” Since then, he’s spent time in Nashville writing and recording songs.

Jennifer Messer from the TV show “The Biggest Loser” will also visit the 2015 State Congress. Messer, an Abingdon, Virginia, native, made it to the top 5 on the 15th season of “The Biggest Loser.” The mother of two, who lost more than 100 pounds, underwent a complete lifestyle change for herself and her family. She will share her journey with State Congress participants.

State Congress delegates can participate in the Great Summer Showcase — a series of fun and innovative educational workshops taught by Virginia Tech faculty members in areas such as animal science, communications and expressive arts, healthy living, environmental education, technology, engineering, and math.

Delegates will also have exciting, hands-on workshops to choose from, including fashion merchandising and horticulture. The workshops introduce the students to interesting subjects while creating a love of learning.

The 2015 State Congress will continue a program introduced in 2013 that gives participants the opportunity to explore college and career tracks by taking an in-depth look at programs offered by Virginia Tech; Virginia State University, the commonwealth’s other land-grant university; and the Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine.

The service learning project this year benefits the nonprofit Project Linus, an organization that donates new, handmade blankets to children in need. Delegates are encouraged to bring 2 yards of fleece fabric to State Congress. Finished blankets will be sent home with local units to distribute to area chapters of Project Linus.

Congress participants will also have an opportunity to compete for awards in dozens of areas, such as culinary arts, forestry, soil and plant science, and drama. In some competitions, winners will advance to regional and national contests.

Other activities include a welcome picnic and mixer, dances, a carnival, a midweek pizza party, and an All Star ice cream social hosted by the 4-H All Stars.

“State 4-H Congress provides teens the opportunity to build on positive experiences in their county programs. Through structured interactions, teens gain new skills, provide service to the community, and have the opportunity to expand their vision for their future, whether they choose to go to college or enter the workforce,” said Cathy Sutphin, associate director of 4-H youth development.

As the youth development service for Virginia Cooperative Extension Virginia 4-H engages youths ages 5 to 19 in hands-on educational programs and activities designed to help them gain the knowledge, life skills, and attitudes needed to further their development as self-directing, contributing, productive members of society.



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