University of Maryland Extension

4-H Health Rocks Youth Ambassador Program and Summit

University of Maryland Extension 4-H Youth Development Team Pictured – Amy Rhodes, Cindy Morris, Celine Pastore, Victoria Stone, Mr. Mineta, Barbara Barga, Sandy Corridon, Karen Reddersen, and Suzannah Macleod
Image Credit: 
Michelle Digby

Youth truly know better, 66% of Wicomico County 12th graders report that their parents discourage underage drinking, however 52% of them also consumed hard liquor in the past 30 days. Those same seniors report using marijuana (34%), non-prescription drugs (15%), tobacco products (28%), carried a weapon to school (17%), and drove after consuming alcohol (19%) all within the past 30 days of completing the 2013 Youth Risk Behavior Survey conducted for Wicomico County High School students.

 Realistically these teens know what they are doing is wrong. How can we better connect to them? How can we aid in this battle of youth endangerments? These are questions the University of Maryland Extension Wicomico County 4-H Youth Development Program began addressing by implementing the National 4-H Health Rocks Program, a anti drug, alcohol, and tobacco education program.

 Since 2011 the 4-H program has reached over 1,500 students. Looking to expand and address the continuing concern of reaching more youth through the Health Rocks program the idea of creating youth stewards emerged.  Youth to youth connects, compassions, and friendships can be a powerful tool for persuasion. 4-H embraced this awareness and has created the 4-H Health Rocks Youth Ambassador Program.

 “After attending the National 4-H Health Rocks Summit at National 4-H Council, it was a dream to bring this conversation about substance abuse to the Eastern Shore of Maryland” said Barbara  Barga, 4-H Program Assistant for the Wicomico County 4-H Program.

 Mrs. Barga worked with Mr. Micheal Charlton, Supervisor of Health and Physical Education/Family Consumer Sciences/Student Service Learning for the Board of Education to incorporate the Ambassador Program into the school system. The 4-H Health Rocks Youth Ambassador Program is comprised of teams of three to five students and a teacher/mentor from local middle and high schools. Each team is participating in a youth summit, student PPT presentations, media presentations, leadership workshops, youth adult mentorships, and a closing reception.

 As a initiative for the Ambassador Program the Wicomico County 4-H Program in conjuction with the Wicomico County Board of Education held the first 4-H Health Rocks Youth Ambassador Summit on October 23rd.  The Summit addressed complexities of substance abuse among the youth population. Youth Ambassodor participants included over 120 students and teachers from Wicomico, Dorchester, Somerset, Worcester, and Cecil Counties, government officials, and community partners. This was not the typical Summit, where youth are lectured to, instead the youth were the ones giving presentations on substance abuse trends in their schools and communities.

 “This was truly an amazing event featuring student perspectives and passions voiced to their peers about substance abuse.” explained Wicomico County 4-H Educator Amy Rhodes.

 The Executive Office of the President shared the expertise of Mr. David Mineta, Deputy Director of Demand Reduction, Office of National Drug Control Policy, who was impressed and proud of all the youth who are becoming advocates in their school and community. Mr. Mineta shared personal stories relating to his own family and beliefs, concerns of the country regarding tobacco, drug, and alcohol abuse, and the appreciation to connet with local youth ambassadors. Mr. Mineta also awarded a Presidential Proclomation signed by President Obama for “National Substance Abuse Prevention Month” to Barbara Barga, the Wicomico County 4-H Program, and the Wicomico County Board of Education.

 The afternoon proceeded by looking at substance abuse from a scientific point of view.   Dr. Ruben Baler, Health Scientist Administrator for the National Institute of Drug Abuse, presented “Why is mixing addictive drugs and young brains such a bad idea?” Youth were intrigued to learn how their brain develops and reaches its full potential in relation to how it is affected during and after substance abuse.  Associate Director of the Center on Young Adult Health and Development (CYAHD), University of Maryland School of Public Health, Kimberly Caldeira, presented “The Secret Life of the Alcohol and Drug Researcher”. Youth asked questions and had a candid discussion with the scientific panel.

 “My kids came back so thrilled to have participated in today’s summit!  THANK YOU so much for including them!  They were excited and enjoyed every single second!  They make me proud!” - N. Lynne Brumley, R.N. School Nurse

 Youth Ambassadors will go back to their communities and schools and promote living a substance free lifestyle.  Each team has been given the task to develop a public service announcement media piece which will be revealed at a closing reception on April 15, 2015. This program has participation from 12 schools including James M. Bennett High School, Cecil County 4-H Youth, Crisfield Academy and High School, Cambridge-South Dorchester High School, Mardela Middle and High School, Parkside High School, Pittsville Middle School, Pocomoke High School, Salisbury Middle School, Washington High School, Wicomico Middle School, and Wicomico High School.

 “The Health Rocks Summit provided our students with a platform to showcase their knowledge and understanding of the dangers of drugs to a very diverse audience.” – Mr.Michael Charlton

 The 4-H Health Rocks Youth Ambassador Summit was supported by the Executive Office of the President, Office of Drug Control Policy, National Institute on Drug Abuse, National 4-H Council, Maryland State 4-H Youth Development Program, Wicomico County 4-H, University of Maryland Extension, Wicomico County Government, Wicomico County Health Department, and Wicomico County Public School System. Wicomico County 4-H is greatly apprecietive of funding support from the Community Foundation of the Eastern Shore.

 Maryland is just one of the many states across the country facing the ever-changing and increasing substance abuse problem occurring among the youth population. With efforts from programs like 4-H we are one step closer to empowering youth with the life skills to make the right decisions. If you would like to find out more about 4-H and how it is impacting your community contact your local extension office or visit



Amy Rhodes, 4-H Educator, Wicomico County, University of Maryland Extension

Barbara Barga, 4-H Program Assistant, Wicomico County, University of Maryland Extension

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