ATHENS, Ga. — As a part of a three-year program, 4-H Tech Changemakers challenged 4-H youth leaders to conduct trainings to educate their communities about digital literacy with the goal of increasing the adoption of technology in rural counties in Georgia.
In 2018, Murray County 4-H received a grant from the National 4-H Council, sponsored by the Microsoft Corporation, to create a youth-led program to identify and solve a problem in their community. This group of 20 youth decided to tackle digital literacy among the older population in Murray County. Once a month, 4-H’ers would visit the local senior center and instruct courses on online shopping, internet safety and video-calling applications to the residents.
In 2019, the 4-H Tech Changemakers project expanded to include an additional 80 counties from thirteen states. The second phase of this grant kicked off with three multiday trainings for more than 300 youth and adults, with the goal of working together to teach digital literacy in their communities. As the lead state advisor, Georgia 4-H developed a guidebook and lesson plans for instructors facilitating the workshops. Additionally, Georgia 4-H worked with National 4-H Council to host informational webinars and updates and coaching calls with participating states.
Locally, Catoosa, Gordon and Whitfield counties participated in the project expansion. Under the direction of 4-H leaders and adult volunteers, 26 4-H youth have collectively logged nearly 1,500 hours of outreach programming, reaching more than 1,100 participants through 12 classes and 16 exhibits. These counties partnered with local schools, libraries, nonprofits and family collaboratives, helping parents access online school information, assisting community members with online communications and aiding people in smart device usage.
One of the strengths of Georgia 4-H is that county staff work collaboratively across county lines, allowing youth to make cross-county connections. Youth who participated in 4-H Tech Changemakers in Georgia worked together to share information at community sessions, present at teen leader conferences and co-present “Tech Bytes” segments when face-to-face programming was suspended due to COVID-19. Youth connected with both other youth and adults from other counties, giving them an extended network of support. By having them present together at multiple events, those cross-county relationships naturally developed into strong friendships and working partnerships.
“I am incredibly impressed with Catoosa, Gordon and Whitfield counties as they implemented the 4-H Tech Changemaker projects in northwest Georgia,” says Kasey Bozeman, Extension 4-H specialist for science programs. “These youth-adult partnership teams allocated time to better understand the digital needs in their communities before beginning programming. As youth developed their technical knowledge and teaching skills, they also became more aware of needs, as well as assets, that could help them address the digital divide.”
Georgia 4-H empowers youth to become true leaders by developing necessary life skills, positive relationships and community awareness. As the largest youth leadership organization in the state, 4-H reaches more than 190,000 people annually through UGA Extension offices and 4-H facilities. For more information, visit georgia4h.org.
–Austin Clark, Georgia 4-H