Maggie Thomas has attended the National 4-H Summit for Healthy Living two years running, but the first was a less-than-ideal experience: After falling critically ill, she was admitted into the hospital for a week and spent her 16th birthday there.
But undeterred after that trip to Washington, D.C., the Lowcountry teenager viewed it as an opportunity to help other young people in South Carolina at this year’s Summit.
“It kind of made me realize it’s very important to have whole-body health, the whole time, and it’s important to put your health first,” she said.
The results were a concept called The Whole Body The Whole Time, and her creation became a national finalist in the National 4-H Healthy Living Summit “Dolphin Tank,” an opportunity for youth in partnership with a mentor to create an action plan focused on addressing a health need within their community or state and pitch the plan to peers, industry leaders and 4-H professionals.
While Dolphin Tank might not have the same ominous moniker as the ABC show Shark Tank, the concept of pitching an idea to a panel of experts remains — and Thomas shined in this year’s competition.
Thomas, from Dorchester County, was selected as one of the 20 finalists in the Dolphin Tank Action Plan and the recipient of a $1,000 mini-grant to establish and implement her plan.
“I wanted to develop a project available for all ages that teaches the importance of having whole-body health at all times,” Thomas said. “I created The Whole Body The Whole Time to touch on every aspect of Healthy Lifestyles — physical activity, nutrition, mental health and the importance of hydration. I hope to see my project improve the lives of youth.”
Thomas’ adult mentor for the Dolphin Tank project was South Carolina 4-H Healthy Lifestyles Coordinator Miriam Roman, who works on the 4-H Youth Development Program Team out of the Sumter County Cooperative Extension Office.
Roman said Thomas has been a true leader in every aspect of her accomplishments.
“Her dedication, commitment and determination to help others has impacted their quality of life in a positive manner,” Roman said. “Maggie’s contributions to 4-H and the Healthy Lifestyles Program have provided learning opportunities to others in a variety of subjects, which help instill program goals, objectives and confidence in young people.”
Roman said Thomas challenged herself to be the best and doesn’t consider failure an option.
“Maggie is an epic role model and ambassador of youth leadership at the local, state and national levels,” she said.
Thomas said Roman went to Washington, D.C., with her the first year and not only guided her throughout the workshops, but also provided significant emotional support through some trying times.
“She was with me on the flight — it was my first plane ride, so she held my hand on the way there; I was so scared. She was just kind of my support system through the whole thing, and when I got sick, she took me to the minute clinic and made sure I was as healthy as I could be at the time,” Thomas said.
The teams competing in Dolphin Tank developed a five-slide-or-less presentation focused on how their 4-H program would address a community- or state-level need related to healthy living and shared their presentations with peers during phase one of the contest in March.
From there, Thomas was among the semifinalists who returned in April to present a 3-minute video to continue to demonstrate how the group is addressing a need. Then, hers was among 20 action plans nationally selected to receive the mini-grant to implement the plan.
Contestants were asked to describe the problem or situation they would address and how it affects the community, set goals and describe how the plan would address the situation and specify where the plan would be put into action.
Other criteria for the project included setting a timeline for the goals of the plan from beginning to end, assigning roles for taking action, discussing tools, resources and community partners that could help enact change, the challenges involved and how they might be overcome and, finally, how they would evaluate the plan’s impact.
“Basically, for the youth participating in it, they’re going to learn five new healthy recipes, five new physical activities and five new mental health exercises, so that they can have whole-body health the whole time,” Thomas said.
And much like the initiative she showed in developing her Dolphin Tank Action Plan, Thomas and her family had a similar approach to getting involved with 4-H to begin with.
Now in her 10th year as a 4-H’er, Thomas lives in a rural community in the Town of St. George and didn’t see many opportunities for youth. So, her mother, aunt, cousin her own age and younger sister decided to start a 4-H club.
“They kind of just dove headfirst and made it come along as the years went on,” she said. “Now we’re huge into it, and it’s become a huge part of my life. I absolutely love it.”
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