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Record $1 Million Gift to VA 4-H Invests In Next Generation of Leaders

Virginia 4-H has received $1 million from Dominion Energy — the largest cash gift in the history of the commonwealth’s largest youth organization — that will help Virginia 4-H continue to offer transformative educational experiences for years to come.

Dominion Energy’s investment in Virginia’s youth is an extraordinary commitment to ensure educational opportunities for children across the commonwealth and helps 4-H educational centers cope with a financial crisis created by COVID-19.

“We feel that supporting Virginia 4-H is an important way that we can give back to our home state of Virginia,” said Ed Baine, president of Dominion Energy Virginia. “4-H holds a special place for youth across the state, and we are incredibly excited about this partnership. We are honored to be able to play a part in shaping our shared future.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has been an extraordinarily difficult time for everyone, and that reality is also true for 4-H educational centers. Providing in-person 4-H educational experiences to serve youth was not possible in 2020, which has had both short- and long-term negative financial impacts on the six educational centers located throughout the commonwealth.

As the cornerstone of the 4-H experience, the educational centers serve more than 13,000 campers each summer. Nearly 18,000 youth take part in 4-H’s overnight programming, and for many, this starts them down the path of learning by doing. More than 250,000 youth take part in Virginia 4-H’s powerful youth programs in the areas of STEM, agriculture, healthy living, and civic engagement. Virginia 4-H is the largest youth organization in the state and has more than 1 million alumni over the course of the organization’s history.

“4-H was founded on the belief that when kids are empowered to pursue their passions and chart their courses, their skills grow and take shape, helping them become true leaders in their lives, careers, and communities,” said John Dooley, the CEO of the Virginia Tech Foundation, who is a member of the 4-H Blue Ribbon Fundraising Committee and started his career as a 4-H educational center director. “I experienced that first-hand. 4-H shaped me as a youth and started me down my career path. We are sincerely thankful for Dominion Energy and its charitable foundation’s generosity and dedication to improving our commonwealth. The best gift we can give our kids is to provide skills that last a lifetime.”

Today, an equal number of youths in the program come from urban and rural areas. Photo from 2018.

With Dominion’s gift, 4-H can continue to provide support for Virginia communities and play an important role in serving the lives of the youth.

“This is a truly transformative gift for Virginia 4-H,” said Dennis Treacy, a former executive vice president of Smithfield and former rector of the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors, who is also a member of the 4-H Blue Ribbon Fundraising Committee. “Our youth are our future health care workers, scientists, farmers, educators, and problem solvers. Dominion Energy’s support will help us strengthen the social and emotional support systems available to our next generation of leaders.”

4-H helps underserved communities and youth and offers community programs. Today, an equal number of youths in the program come from urban areas and rural ones. More than 40 percent of Virginia 4-H youth are from underserved populations.

Although 4-H has provided learning-from-home opportunities during the COVID-19 pandemic, this is not intended to replace the in-person experiences that generations of campers have come to know and love. Such experiences are a crucial part of 4-H’s mission to grow youth into the leaders of tomorrow, and 4-H is committed to providing them again when possible. In addition to hosting 4-H camping, all of the educational centers rent their spaces to community groups and partners to help raise revenue that is critical for sustaining year-round operations and maintaining an affordable camping experience for all youth. Cancellations due to the COVID-19 pandemic have eliminated this vital source of revenue, making philanthropy in support of 4-H more important than ever.

Dominion Energy’s contribution is the lead gift of the Virginia 4-H Educational Centers Campaign to raise $4 million to ensure the educational centers continue to be an irreplaceable community nexus for years to come.

Nearly 18,000 youth take part in 4-H’s overnight programming, and for many, this starts them down the path of learning by doing. Photo from 2018.

The campaign is led by Blue Ribbon Committee co-chairs Elizabeth McClanahan, former justice of the Supreme Court of Virginia and incoming Virginia Tech Foundation CEO, and John G. Rocovich Jr., former rector of the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors.

Also on the committee are Dominion’s Baine; Dooley; Treacy; Scott Bennett, director of congressional relations for American Farm Bureau; Rusty Brown, market president and commercial banking executive of Atlantic Union Bank; Jodie Clarke, vice president of procurement for Altria; Brad Cornelius, CEO of Farm Credit of the Virginias; Paul Franklin, CEO of Colonial Farm Credit; Bill Hayter, president of First Bank & Trust; Wayne Pryor, president of Virginia Farm Bureau; Ed Scott, a former member of the Virginia House of Delegates; and Lea Scott, chair of the Virginia Agribusiness Council.

“We take immense pride in supporting our communities and in our important role in serving the lives of the youth,” said Jeremy Johnson, state 4-H leader. “We promise to continue providing these opportunities to youth in Virginia by meeting them where they are so they may become well-rounded, civic-minded, and successful in their future endeavors. My own 4-H experiences at Airfield 4-H Center, both as a camper and summer staff member, shaped my trajectory as a first-generation college graduate. 4-H taught me cooperation and communication, connection and character, and the importance of hard work.”

Johnson added: “With the work of the entire committee and its partners, every child in the commonwealth will continue to have the ability to develop their future, and Dominion’s investment helps ensure an opportunity for all of Virginia’s youth.”

More than 250,000 youth take part in Virginia 4-H’s powerful youth programs in the areas of STEM, agriculture, healthy living, and civic engagement. Photo from 2018.

There are countless stories across the state that show how Virginia 4-H not only transformed lives, but made a lasting impact on local communities.

In her Fairfax community, 17-year-old Alexa Mitchell works to provide basic needs that can transform lives. Through her 4-H club garden plot, she has donated food to local food pantries, and she has also raised money to support local homeless shelters.

“It was this experience that caused me to search for more opportunities to help those in need,” said Mitchell, the 2020 overall Youth in Action award winner for Virginia 4-H. “I’ve learned to appreciate the value of making an impact on my community. In a time like this, when people’s normal sources of food have suddenly halted, it’s important to make sure that I’m doing what I can to help.”

Elsewhere in the commonwealth, Andie Harris of Wytheville said 4-H camp was a transformative experience that set her on the path to becoming a lawyer.

“4-H camp helped me learn how to be independent, confident, and taught me when to lead and when to follow,” Harris said. “If it wasn’t for 4-H camp and the classes offered there, I wouldn’t have gotten the opportunity to experience and learn so many skills, both practical and fun, which have become so integral to my adulthood. I am grateful for the confidence and lifelong friends I gained all those years ago at 4-H camp.”

 Max Esterhuizen

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