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4-H Members Raise Awareness of Meningitis

In Louisiana, 4-H youth took their civic engagement skills and put them towards something life changing—advocating and lobbying for meningitis prevention.

After two families in Vermillion Parish lost their children to meningitis—an infection that strikes nearly 3,000 Americans each year and carries a 10 to 12 percent death rate—4-H members took action. The Vermillion Parish 4-H Junior Leader Club started their own Meningitis Awareness Campaign and invited local health officials, as well as the mother of a meningitis victim, to speak at their monthly meetings. They even designed an educational exhibit for parish-wide health fairs and handed out brochures and posters to middle and high-school students, encouraging them to get vaccinated.

"I think the original motivation for this project was very strong," said Shannan Waits, a 4-H Extension Agent in Vermilion Parish. "4-H members knew the two students who died from meningitis, so it was real to them. They knew the disease was taking lives, even though it could be prevented via a safe, FDA-approved vaccine. That really hit home and motivated them to take action."

Perhaps the most important step the Campaign members made was to collaborate with the Meningitis Angel's Association, a publicly supported organization dedicated to those who lost their lives to meningitis. Working together, they designed and sold enough Meningitis Awareness bracelets to fund the Meningitis Angel's Association's lobbying efforts. Their hard work paid off, because Congress successfully passed a bill that requires sixth-graders to show proof of their meningitis vaccination. And according to a 4-H survey, approximately 92 percent of the Campaign members were fired up by the project and wanted to continue with service learning activities.

"I sensed that through this project they were taking what happened and turning it into a positive thing," said Waits. "[4-H] created awareness so that other people wouldn't have to go through the same thing."