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I wanted to do something light to start off the new year. A coworker suggested an article on popcorn. Although I always love a challenge, I really wasn’t sure where to go with that. However, the more I thought about it, the more it became an analogy for our youth in 4-H. So if you can bear with me, I think you will receive that satisfying, buttery, salty crunch by the end of this article.

Popcorn is considered a whole grain and, depending on how you make it, can be considered healthy. Robeson County 4-H is a bit like that; we actually teach our youth how to make healthy food choices. Over the years, some of my favorite E-mails or calls have come as a result of our Expanded Foods and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP). Tamika McLean, Youth EFNEP Associate with North Carolina Cooperative Extension, Robeson County Center, goes into classrooms and works with youth on making healthy choices, increasing their physical activity, and letting them sample and even make their own healthy snacks. I love opening my E-mail or getting a call from a parent who tells me their child “took” them to the grocery store to buy all the ingredients to make a snack for the entire family at home, and it was good. Now the entire family will be eating a little healthier.

This amazing snack food is also versatile. It can be used for decoration in its popped and un-popped states, and some folks use it for packing material (seriously, that’s why the styrofoam peanuts are referred to as popcorn). Robeson County 4-H is also versatile. For some youth, the traditional year-round club is a staple in their lives; others work primarily with our summer or school enrichment programs. What they all have is a key for success, which is caring, highly trained adult volunteers who nurture them and give them opportunities to learn and provide research-based, hands-on curriculum that is makes learning fun. So really, 4-H can be anything you want it to be.

Do you know the science behind the agricultural commodity of popcorn? If the kernel, which is grown on a cob, is put in an environment where it is heated to 180 degrees Fahrenheit, the steam builds up inside of the kernel and the hull ruptures allowing a hard starch to pop out. With our youth, we expose them to all sorts of life skills such as communication arts; goal setting; decision making; and science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), allowing them to find what works for them. As they go through the program, they gain confidence and self-esteem. Essentially, they pop out of their shells and grow into successful adults who give back to their communities.

So the question is, are you hungry? Are you hungry for some wonderful popcorn? Or maybe you’re hungry to help youth become the best they can be through 4-H? It’s a new year – maybe it’s time for you to pop into a new role? If 4-H interests you, give us a call – we can pop some popcorn, sit down, and talk about it.

For more information, please contact Shea Ann DeJarnette, Extension 4-H Youth Development Agent with North Carolina Cooperative Extension, Robeson County Center, at 671-3276, by E-mail at Shea_Ann_DeJarnette@ncsu.edu, or visit our website at http://robeson.ces.ncsu.edu/. North Carolina State University and North Carolina A&T State University commit themselves to positive action to secure equal opportunity regardless of race, color, creed, national origin, religion, sex, age, veteran status, or disability. In addition, the two Universities welcome all persons without regard to sexual orientation.