Competition and Teamwork Promote Well-Being

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In 1862 President Abraham Lincoln signed the Morrill Act into federal law to ensure that each state would have at least one college promoting practical education. In 1914, The Smith-Lever Act improved family and life education by using the Cooperative Extension System, bringing university knowledge into the local communities. The recent Dinah Gore Healthy Food Challenge is a perfect example of Cooperative Extension working well. In North Carolina, local 4-H youth benefit from the technical expertise of NC State and NC A&T.

In Lee County, Cooperative Extension’s Family & Community Science and 4-H Youth Development areas make a natural team. Together these two programs recently supported a group of young people ages ten and up to learn healthy and safe cooking practices. From this six-week class, a team of five youths ages eleven to thirteen was formed. In this column last week, Ashley Szilvay, the Family and Consumer Sciences Agent, highlighted this group and shared the importance of including children in the kitchen to empower them to make healthier food choices. This was one of the goals of our first “Cupids’ in the Kitchen” 4-H Club, but it became so much more.

4-H flavor fighters team photo

In April, Ashley and I watched five strangers begin to form the bonds of a team while preparing for the Dinah Gore 4-H Healthy Food Challenge hosted at the “Got to Be” NC Festival this past weekend in Raleigh. They gave up six evenings to learn about new flavor profiles, safe kitchen practices, and to review the MyPlate facts. They spent two hours practicing public speaking skills, so they could effectively share what they were learning with the judges. These teens could have been doing many other things during these final weeks of school and the beginning of summer, but they chose to embrace this opportunity and enhance their personal skills. 4-H uses a spark, in this case, cooking, then introduces them to skills that can help them succeed in college and careers.

These members quickly identified each other’s strengths and learned to capitalize on them. Studies are now showing that Americans are too focused on “self-help,” putting emphasis on correcting weaknesses, instead of focusing on what we do well. Ashley and I had a front-row seat to watch their progress. The van ride to Raleigh was filled with strategizing, and they arrived at the competition ready to cook. 

At the competition, the team was assigned a food group (Dairy) and then a specific item from that food group (Goat Cheese). That’s right, goat cheese! In forty minutes, they created a dish that highlighted that item, purchased additional ingredients from the grocery store, and wrote a presentation to share with judges about the process of creating the dish, nutrition facts, and healthy practices they employed to keep the dish safe for consumption. 

And the winner was…The Lee County 4-H “Flavor Fighters”! The team won first place in their age group with their inspired and innovative recipe for “Goat Cheese Street Tacos.” They made a goat cheese cream sauce spread on warm tortillas with seasoned and sauteed yellow squash and purple cauliflower to create a beautiful plate that impressed the judges.

Even if this group had not won first place, they still would have walked away with enhanced skills. One parent shared with us how their child has even been correcting them on safe kitchen practices, so they are definitely internalizing and applying what they are learning. The promise and thrill of the competition motivated extracurricular education, public speaking practice, and the valuable experience of team building. By focusing on each other’s strengths, they created a winning team!

For information and resources on this topic, please contact Pam Kerley, the 4-H Program Assistant for North Carolina Cooperative Extension, Lee County Center. 4-H is a positive youth development program offering programs that suit a variety of backgrounds, interests, budgets, and schedules. From in-school to after-school, clubs to camps, 4-H programs are available in Lee County, and we welcome children who want to have fun, learn and grow. In North Carolina, 4-H is brought to you by the NC State Cooperative Extension. N.C. Cooperative Extension’s experts and educators share university knowledge, information, and tools you can use daily to improve your life.