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Nat'l 4-H Council reports:

Chevy Chase, MD - National 4-H Council is announcing a vast expansion of its 4-H Tech Changemakers program supported by Verizon, Microsoft, Land O'Lakes, Inc. and Tractor Supply Company. Established in 2017 with support from Microsoft, 4-H Tech Changemakers trains and equips teens to teach adults digital employability skills that include online job seeking, social media marketing, software use, and more.

The $8.5M investment from the coalition of partners, which includes $7.5M from Verizon, will allow 4-H teens to bring vital digital skills to more than 50,000 adults across 164 communities, with a focus on rural communities and communities of color.

Inequitable access to the internet and digital skills are contributing to a growing opportunity gap in areas like education, employment, healthcare, social fulfillment, and entrepreneurship. The FCC estimates that more than 21 million people don't have access to high-speed broadband internet, with other recent reports indicating the issue may be significantly more wide-spread.

This lack of access has a substantial negative economic impact on affected communities-which are disproportionately rural and those of color-including decreased job readiness and fewer opportunities for employment. One recent study estimates that if the digital racial gap is not addressed, 76 percent of Blacks and 62 percent of Hispanics could "get shut out or be under-prepared for 86 percent of jobs in the US by 2045."

The 4-H Tech Changemakers program seeks to close this opportunity gap by making digital skills accessible to those who need them most. "This program empowers young people to identify which skills are most needed and by whom in their community, and then to go out and teach them," explained Jennifer Sirangelo, President and CEO of National 4-H Council. "In this model, teens leverage their digital skills to give back to their communities while building critical leadership and organizational skills."

4-H, as the positive youth development (PYD) organization of the nation's Cooperative Extension system, has the unique ability to reach young people in every state, territory, county, and parish across the country. The 4-H Tech Changemakers program will be implemented by 23 Land-Grant Universities (LGUs), of which 11 are Historically Black Land Grant Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). This localized approach-which puts university faculty and trusted Cooperative Extension professionals at the center of implementation-will ensure maximum impact in the communities that need it most.

"At Verizon, we see digital inclusion as a necessary building block for creating greater societal equity." said Rose Stuckey Kirk, chief corporate social responsibility officer for Verizon. "This is why Verizon has invested in 4-H Tech Changemakers. This program is innovative in the way it equips 4-H'ers-who are both digital natives and trusted voices in their communities-to not just teach digital skills but build the vision for what a more inclusive future looks like."

Through 4-H Tech Changemakers, teens become credentialed through formal training in how to teach digital skills to adults. They also receive technology to support their projects, assistance from 4-H professionals and coalition partners, and training in ways to effectively engage their communities. To date, this powerful, youth-centered program has reached more than 10,000 adults with digital skills training in collaboration with Microsoft, the program's founding partner.

"Broadband access is critical to helping young people and adults develop digital skills for today's jobs," said Vice President and Lead of Microsoft Philanthropies, Kate Behncken. "We helped launch 4-H Tech Changemakers to align connectivity with digital skills training and are thrilled to see other companies recognize the importance of encouraging students to be digital advocates in their communities."

Rural Americans are 10 times more likely to lack high speed internet access than their suburban or urban counterparts. Research indicates that roughly 60 percent of farmers in the U.S. lack sufficient connectivity to run their business, while 25 percent of farms have no internet access whatsoever. That means that many farmers, ranchers, and agricultural workers are being left behind.

"Land O'Lakes is pleased to support the 4-H Tech Changemakers program, to equip individuals to leverage the tools necessary to compete and thrive in today's economy, bolstered by adequate broadband access," said Tina May, vice president of Rural Services at Land O'Lakes, Inc. "Through this collaboration and our work on the American Connection Project, we see the potential for real change and more prosperous individuals, families and communities."

Tractor Supply Company, a long-time supporter of 4-H, has expanded their partnership to include 4-H Tech Changemakers.

"With nearly 2,000 Tractor Supply Stores around the country, our business is all about supporting rural Americans. We recognize the importance of connectivity and digital skills and believe that the inclusive, multi-generational connection of the program will provide community benefits that extend beyond digital skills. We are excited to support the 4-H Tech Changemakers program," said Hal Lawton, President and CEO at Tractor Supply Company.

In 2021, the program will engage youth through Cooperative Extension at the following LGUs: Alcorn State, University of Arizona, University of Arkansas, Auburn University, Alabama A&M, Florida A&M, University of Georgia, Kentucky State, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, North Carolina A&T, Prairie View A&M, Purdue University, Southern University and A&M College, Texas A&M, Tennessee State, Tuskegee University, Virginia State, Virginia Tech, Washington State, West Virginia University, West Virginia State, and University of Wisconsin.

To learn more, visit 4-H Tech Changemakers.

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