Three Tennessee Counties to Engage Local Youth to Work with Health Councils to Ensure Healthier Community Members at Every Stage of Life​

Extension Grant
4-H Food Smart Families allows teen health ambassadors and 4-H professionals to partner with local organizations to develop community-focused events that engage youth in learning about healthy lifestyles in Bedford, Chester, Cumberland, Giles, Monroe and Shelby counties.​ A new 10-year pilot program in Meigs, Coffee and Pickett counties will allow youth to address top public health priorities, such as individual and community well-being, prevention and treatment of chronic disease and reductions in health care costs. Photo courtesy UTIA. 
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – The Cooperative Extension partners in Tennessee – University of Tennessee Extension and the Tennessee State University Cooperative Extension – have been selected as among five land-grant universities (LGUs) to partner with National 4-H Council (Council) and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), the nation’s largest health philanthropy, to improve health in local communities over the next two years. The Tennessee Extension partners are among the many LGUs that will work over the next ten years to build a culture of health in 1,000 communities across the nation. To reach this goal, the Council will use the $4.6 million grant awarded by RWJF to convene the unparalleled assets of the national Cooperative Extension System (CES), which includes the Tennessee Extension partners, to leverage 4-H’s proven youth leadership model. In Tennessee youth will work alongside community members, local public health organizations, businesses, government entities and non-profit agencies in Meigs, Coffee and Pickett counties to address top public health priorities, such as individual and community well-being, prevention and treatment of chronic disease and reductions in health care costs.The ten-year partnership will begin with the Council working with five LGUs including UT-TSU Extension, to identify innovator c​ommunities and communities in need where they will implement locally-responsive strategies. Each LGU is charged with working in a minimum of three communities to develop an action plan and connect with at least 150 volunteers to mentor youth leaders to build local capacity and ensure successful implementation of the action plan. “Meigs, Coffee and Pickett counties were chosen for the pilot phase from a competitive community proposal process. These three communities are poised to build a local culture of health because of their community capacity of partnerships and engagement,” said Laura Stephenson, assistant dean of UT Extension. “The grant, which in Tennessee amounts to $89,000, will fund work in these counties spearheaded by the county Extension 4-H and Family and Consumer Sciences agents who work locally to provide youth development and adult education services.”The UT-TSU Extension partnership was selected, in part, based on their preparedness to drive innovation for other communities and to implement the pilot projects at scale. An additional 56 LGUs will begin to lay the groundwork for expansion into further communities in the future. The partnership will focus on three key elements to accomplish transformational change: (1) designing a sustainable network structure to promote health and well-being in communities across the nation; (2) creating and disseminating tools for healthier communities; and (3) launching a training curriculum for local community advocates. This approach will exponentially increase the impact and outcomes of the local Health Councils to drive impactful, sustainable changes.Dr. Michelle Rodgers, Project Director and Associate Dean & Director of Cooperative Extension, University of Delaware, says one of the unique aspects of the CES approach is that one initiative can drive outcomes for both rural and urban communities. “This initiative taps into everything that the Cooperative Extension System has done well since we were formed over a century ago as the national education and community development program of the nation’s land-grant universities,” said Rodgers. “When we combine this with America’s philanthropy leader in health, it is amazing to envision the transformative impact we will have in communities throughout the country.”

In addition to UT and TSU Extension, the four additional LGUs selected for the partnership include: South Dakota State University, University of Maryland Eastern Shore, University of Minnesota and Utah State University. 



Dr. Laura Stephenson, UT Extension Assistant Dean, 865-974-7384,​

Cassie Reininger, National 4-H Council, 301-642-6979,


About the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture
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About National 4-H Council
4 H, the nation’s largest youth development organization, grows confident young people who are empowered for life today and prepared for career tomorrow. 4 H programs empower nearly six million young people across the U.S. through experiences that develop critical life skills. 4 H is the youth development program of our nation’s Cooperative Extension System and USDA, and serves every county and parish in the U.S. through a network of 110 public universities and more than 3000 local Extension offices. Globally, 4 H collaborates with independent programs to empower one million youth in 50 countries. The research-backed 4 H experience grows young people who are four times more likely to contribute to their communities; two times more likely to make healthier choices; two times more likely to be civically active; and two times more likely to participate in STEM programs.

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