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Olmsted County 4-H'ers support literacy program in City of Rochester

Each spring the Minnesota 4-H Foundation distributes grants to 4-H clubs who want to make a difference in their community. We will be featuring one grantee every month this year to celebrate all the wonderful ways Minnesota 4-H'ers are living out the 4-H Pledge. Our January featured grantee wanted to take action around the issue of literacy in Rochester, Minnesota. We hope you enjoy their story.
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4-H'ers and friends with
empty boxes after a
successful book drive
The Acorn Acres 4-H Club of Olmsted County know that reading is a crucial skill as well as an enjoyable hobby. Their local Rochester Public Library and the Leadership Greater Rochester program had a pre-existing pilot of mini libraries in the area. Mini libraries serve as small, enclosed structures that house books, free for community members to take and read. Used in communities nationwide, it has been shown that mini libraries increase reading among users, as well as increase local students' reading scores after a summer out of school.

Stacey Vander Heuvel, Acorn Acres' parent leader, thought that partnering with the Leadership Greater Rochester program was a "unique opportunity to leverage the 4-H Foundation's [Helping Hands] Grant to meet a well-defined community need," as well as a way to involve youth and adults toward a common goal. Club President Amanina Abdul Rashid agreed, and after learning more about the Helping Hands Grants, urged her club to support the project and apply for funding. The club jumped on board whole-heartedly.

Going into the project, the Acorn Acres 4-H Club set a goal of developing project management skills and learning about how promotional efforts are planned and implemented. They were excited to help alleviate a community problem, to collaborate with other community organizations, and of course, to show Rochester youth and adults the power of passionate 4-H'ers.

The Rochester Mini Libraries project turned out to be a huge success, with 40 mini libraries being built across the city. While the 4-H'ers weren't able to help with the physical building of the libraries, they ran a book drive to supplement the contents of the libraries, helped with book sorting, and worked to raise awareness of other Leadership Greater Rochester projects. Acorn Acres 4-H Club members also got to participate in the dedication of the final mini library, located in Peace Plaza in downtown Rochester, which bears the name of: "Acorn Acres 4-H Club with support from the Minnesota 4-H Foundation." The youth got to meet the mayor at this event, who sat down and read aloud from one of the mini library's books during the dedication.

Rochester Mayor reading
aloud at Peace Plaza
Through the project, 4-H'ers were able to take a peek into the "momentum of success," say Stacey and Amanina. "The pace of the community project was a little faster than we could keep up with because [the project was] having so much success." The youth also got a chance to practice public speaking when promoting the project, and to see how compromise and consensus come into play in community projects. The 4-H'ers were so effective in their rallying the cause that they actually fundraised more dollars than were needed, and were able to make a donation to the Rochester Public Library for future mini library maintenance and restocking.

The Acorn Acres 4-H Club did not stop there, though. Amanina was able to bring a mini library to the county fair as a Youth Leadership project, furthering the exposure of this powerful community engagement and literacy project. Additionally, club members volunteered with the Minnesota 4-H Foundation at their annual golf event, where they got to meet all sorts of people supporting 4-H, including Congressman Gil Gutknecht and State Speaker-of-the-House Steve Sviggum. The 4-H'ers were excited to collaborate with 4-H alumni and friends from across the state, as well as share the story of their project.
4-H'ers volunteering at
the MN 4-H Foundation
golf event

Going forward, the Acorn Acres 4-H Club has many other service projects planned. However, they will continue to run small book drives to ensure books are still available in the mini libraries, now being maintained by the Rochester Public Library.

As veterans of a successful community service project, sponsored by a Helping Hands Grant, Amanina and Stacey shared why they think youth should join, and adults should support, 4-H. "Through 4-H, I have had opportunities to learn about leadership by going to retreats and by actually doing various [projects]," mentioned Amanina during a recent conversation. "This Helping Hands Grant helped me explore how to apply many of the things I [have] learned through BLU and officer training." Stacey, who is an Iowa 4-H alum, says she volunteers to help 4-H'ers flourish. "In 4-H, there is something for everyone. I have found that being a parent leader is very rewarding...It is great to do activities with [my own daughter], but it is also great to be there for other 4-H'ers who just need a little more, or different, encouragement. I enjoy seeing 4-H'ers try something new each year. They grow immensely."

To learn more about the Minnesota 4-H Foundation's Helping Hands Grant program, visit our website at

By Madeleine Miller
Minnesota 4-H Foundation
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