For more than 100 years school children in Georgia have learned important life lessons while having fun in a local 4-H club. From its roots in rural America the 4-H program has expanded its outreach to include children of every background and is recognized today as the nation's largest youth development organization. 4-H accomplishes this by helping young people (ages 9-19) gain important leadership skills while they explore and develop individual talents and interests.
4-H programs are administered through the county offices of the University of Georgia Extension Service and last month, Chatham County Extension FACS Agent, Lisa Jordan, welcomed Sergia “Sergy” Gabelmann as Chatham County's first Latina to lead the local 4-H program.
Gabelmann, who is married and the mother of two adult children, is a green-eyed blond whose Latino roots are revealed only by her golden brown tan. She was born and raised in Miami where her parents settled after moving there from Cuba.
“Growing up, Spanish was my first language,” Gabelmann said. “But I was educated in the public schools so I became bilingual at a very early age.”
Before moving to Savannah, Gabelmann worked with 4-H students in Cobb County near Atlanta, Georgia for more than eighteen years.
“The great thing about 4-H is that it allows children so many ways to explore the things that interest them in life,” she said. “I go into the local public school classrooms to work with the students. We have over 56 different project achievement areas in subjects as different as public speaking and fashion design. 4-H’ers pick a project area of interest, research the topic, write a presentation, and then present it to others.”
Last year a group of Brunswick-area 4-H students developed a project that had a significant impact on the environmental health of local beaches. Calling themselves the “sea-monkeys”, the students investigated high levels of enterococcal bacteria in Glynn County marshland. Using floating oranges to track tidal flow, the students discovered that dog feces on public beaches was the primary culprit. They then mounted a successful public awareness campaign to address the situation.
As a Latina, Gabelmann recognizes that cultural influences can play an important role in the choices students and their parents make.
“When I was growing up, sleep-overs or spending the night away from home were things that many Latino parents just didn't understand,” she said. “Summer camp and district project achievements (DPA) are two of the most enjoyable activities we offer in 4-H, and both of those involve kids spending the night away from home. So my goal is to establish a trusting relationship with Hispanic parents so they will be more comfortable about letting their children experience these activities.”
4-H is a free activity and there are no membership dues or uniforms to purchase.
“We provide many of the supplies students need for their projects but they may have some expenses involved with DPA and summer camps,” Gabelmann said. “Our goal is to make sure there are never any barriers for a child who wants to participate in 4-H.”
Lisa Jordan said she was excited to have Sergia join her culturally-diverse staff.
“Our bilingual nutrition program assistant, Carmen Martinez, has helped us reach local Hispanic families for several years now,” Jordan said. “With Sergia joining us, we'll be able to do an even better job of making sure that all our families in Chatham County can benefit from UGA extension services.”
4-H activities are open to all students in Chatham County, ages 9-19, but the program also welcomes adult volunteers who want to assist the students and their leaders.
For more information, please call the Chatham County 4-H office at (912) 652-7981 or send an email message to Sergy Gabelmann at firstname.lastname@example.org