College of Agriculture, Forestry and Life Sciences; Public Service and Agriculture

Youth find ‘courage to lead’ at S.C. 4-H State Congress


The theme of this year’s S.C. 4-H State Congress was “The Courage to Lead in a Jungle of the Unknown,” and many of the speakers at the event’s banquet and others in attendance had their own stories about learning to do just that.

For State Teen Council President Cassidy Hurst, finding the courage to lead came not just via being exposed to leadership opportunities, but also helping to cope with the challenges of COVID-19 in moving the organization forward through trying times.

A 9-year veteran of 4-H whose primary project area is shooting sports, Hurst said it was her first visit to State Congress that inspired her to run for a spot on 4-H State Teen Council, where she first landed the role of Secretary.

“Over time, I became confident in my ability to lead, organize and work alongside Teen Council in ways that positively affected 4-H and my personal growth,” said Hurst, who addressed those in attendance at Clemson University’s Madren Center on July 9 for the event.

South Carolina 4-H Teen Council President Cassidy Hurst speaks during the 4-H State Congress banquet at the Madren Center.

And despite the challenges of COVID-19, and a majority of 4-H events becoming virtual for an extended period, Hurst said the challenges she experienced during that time helped her to continue to grow as a person and a leader, ultimately leading to her running for State Teen Council President.

“I say all that to say: You are more capable because of your struggles than you would be had you never been challenged, so use your experience with difficulty to your advantage. The only part of adversity that endures is your reaction to it,” she said.

Jessica Simpson, Anderson County 4-H Youth Development Agent with 16 years experience, said 4-H State Congress culminates for many of the youth a decade or more of “their lives’ work.”

“Some of these kids have put in blood, sweat and tears from the time they were 5 years old up until now, and some of them are 17, 18 and almost 19,” Simpson said. “So, this is a big event where all of their hard work pays off. Especially some of these Presidential Tray winners, I think you’ll see a lot of tears.”

Simpson said her broad goal as a 4-H agent is to see her 4-H’ers being contributing members of society when they grow up.

“So, I want to see them coming back and volunteering. But 4-H teaches them just like skills — problem-solving skills — and just being better humans is what I strive for with my kids,” she said.

While 4-H holds strong to its agricultural roots, it has also modernized its programs to include a variety of offerings to help young people develop such as a strong water quality program in Anderson County: “Cows are my favorite, but I do more stuff than cattle anymore,” she said. “I focus a lot on agriculture because of the county I’m in, but we certainly do lots of robotics and STEM and environmental education and all kinds of stuff.”

South Carolina 4-H Teen Council Vice President Brianna Smalls sings the national anthem during the 4-H State Congress banquet at the Madren Center.

Marie Elizabeth Grant, a 2020 Presidential Tray winner who was on a team that attended the All-American Quarter Horse Congress in Ohio and brought home a pair of national titles, said she became involved in 4-H because she had been involved with horses since she was a child and wanted a way to meet other “horse crazy” people.

“I was around 8 or 9, and my mom was trying to find more things in the area for us to get involved with, so she found a 4-H horse club,” she said. “So, that started my involvement in 4-H and it just kind of grew from there to all the other projects.”

Grant said being named a Presidential Tray winner was a special honor to culminate her time as a 4-H’er.

“It’s the highest honor that a South Carolina 4-H’er can achieve, and so, my entire 4-H career had been working towards that goal,” Grant said. “It was such an honor to receive that.”

As a homeschooled student, Grant said 4-H not only allowed her an outlet for working with horses, but also provided a social component that might have otherwise been lacking.

“Definitely just being able to meet so many people who share the same interests as me and that are mentors in the 4-H world and in the horse world, all the connections I’ve made have been beneficial,” she said.

And the banquet’s guest speaker, Tom Garrison, who began as a 4-H’er in 1966 and remained through 1976 when he graduated high school, said overcoming challenges was nothing new either in 4-H or in the career it led him to: that of a full-time farmer.

2020 4-H Presidential Tray winners
From left: 2020 Presidential Tray winners Arizona Bowers of Anderson County, Hailey Williamson of Lexington County, and Marie Elizabeth Grant of Anderson County, pose with Clemson Cooperative Extension Director Tom Dobbins during the 4-H State Congress banquet at the Madren Center.

“It was a life-changing activity that was great, and that’s what I want to talk about here tonight is my experiences in 4-H — all the activities we went through, all the people we met and even the many, many lifelong friendships you build as a result of 4-H,” Garrison said. “It teaches you so much that is so applicable to your adult life. It’s followed me all these years — and it made me who I am.”

And who Garrison is, is a 1980 Clemson graduation and fourth-generation farmer who operates Denver Downs and whose father is the namesake of the Clemson’s T. Ed Garrison Arena near campus.

Garrison has been farming in Anderson County since his graduation from Clemson and says he’s seen numerous shifts in the industry that have required adaptability and hard work to overcome obstacles.

“It’s tough, but we get it done … but it’s so changing, the dynamics of agriculture,” he said. “Anderson County is growing by leaps and bounds, and land values have gotten so high — and it’s not agricultural land — and then the big boys have gotten bigger. You see more movement to extreme rural areas. I mean, where would you put a dairy today if you were going to start a dairy?

“I would say someone going into agriculture these days, they’ve got to be ambitious and they’ve got to be passionate. You can’t go into this and say, ‘Well, I think I want to farm.’”

While South Carolina 4-H offers much more than agriculture in the modern era, it still focuses on trying to build the grit, strength of character and perseverance in youth to help make them successful if farming is they path they choose.

In summary, State Teen Council President Hurst described her experience in a leadership role with 4-H as one of becoming stronger through adversity. And in many ways, Hurst exemplifies the resiliency that being a 4-H’er is all about: She received the South Carolina 4-H Spirit of 4-H Award during the night’s festivities.

Tom Garrison, a 4-H alum, 1980 Clemson graduate and operator of Denver Downs farm in Anderson County, speaks during the 4-H State Congress banquet at the Madren Center.

“I was nervous and afraid of failure and afraid of finding out finally that I truly did not belong (when I ran for President),” she said. “But because of the challenges I was presented with that year, I was stronger and more confident than I would have been had I not faced such difficulty prior to my campaign. I was out of my comfort zone, but with a new perspective.”

The 2021 award winners from South Carolina 4-H State Congress were:

— S.C. 4-H Presidential Tray Winners: Charis Grabbe (Lancaster County), Brianna Smalls (Dorchester County), Maggie Thomas (Dorchester County); Langley Vernon (Anderson County);

— National 4-H Conference Winners: Aliza Allison (Lexington County), Carson Marino (Chester County), Daniel Marino (Chester County); Charlotte Wilson (Florence County);

— S.C. State 4-H Winners: Daniel Marino (Chester County), Abigail Newman (Lexington County), Charlotte Watson (Florence County);

— S.C. 4-H Spirit of 4-H Award: Cassidy Hurst (Pickens County);

— Glen Krohn 4-H Volunteer Award Recipients: Lynn Moore (Pickens County), Kimberly Williamson (Lexington County).

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