3:47 p.m., Nov. 22, 2010----“I know it can be tough to be a member of a military family; my husband is retired military. I understand the importance of community support for military families,” says Rhonda Martell, military liaison for Delaware 4-H.
It's that attitude -- plus plenty of hard work, creativity and long, irregular hours -- that has earned Rhonda Martell the 4-H/Air Force Aim High Award.
This award is presented annually to a 4-H youth development professional who has excelled at creating programs for Air Force, Air Guard and Air Reserve families. Martell received her award from National 4-H and Air Force's Family Member Programs at recent ceremonies in Arizona.
Martell has been responsible for Delaware 4-H's Military Programs since 2000. Previously, she oversaw 4-H's substance abuse prevention programs in Kent County.
“When I moved into the Military Programs role, I knew it would involve lots of evening and weekend hours,” says Martell. “But I took on the challenge because I wanted to make a difference for these families. I know what it's like to have your spouse leave for work in the morning, get the orders for deployment, and not even be able to return home to say goodbye.”
Martell supports Air Force families through a number of initiatives, including a 4-H club for on-base youth dubbed The Soaring Eagles, as well as a 4-H club for off-base youth, Operation Military Kids. Youth in this club represent not only Air Force families but all branches of the service.
The clubs offer a range of 4-H programming, from archery to arts and crafts, science and technology to community service. But what makes these clubs different from other 4-H clubs is the strong focus on life skills.
“Out of necessity, military youth are often called upon at a younger age to cook, watch siblings or run a load of wash,” notes Martell. “We teach life skills in fun and safe ways. For example, we utilize the microwave for our 'cooking at home' unit. This shows them an easy -- and safe -- way to get a meal or snack on the table.”
Other components of the life skills curriculum include babysitting training, basic first aid and CPR.
“Rhonda Martell can easily be described as the '4-H Energizer Bunny,' says Doug Crouse, director of Kent County Cooperative Extension. “Through her untiring efforts and desire to work with military families, Rhonda has developed a program that provides ongoing 4-H programming for military families at the Dover Air Force Base.”
“Integration of the military 4-H youth members into the county and state 4-H program is a priority for Rhonda,” adds Crouse. Due to Martell's efforts, military youth participated in a county public speaking contest, state Teen Conference, National 4-H Conference and entered exhibits in the Delaware State Fair. One military youth even participated in a 4-H Bosnia Exchange program by hosting a Bosnian student, then later traveling to Bosnia.
“One of my highest priorities has always been deployment readiness,” says Martell. “You want these kids to be ready for the time when mom or dad gets called away.”
Pre-deployment efforts include a summer deployment camp that allows youth to experience the deployment procedures their parents will go through. Youth also are recognized with “Hero Packs” to acknowledge the important role they play while their parent is away. These packs contain stationary, stamps, photo albums and other ways to stay in touch with the absent parent, plus such diversions as movie tickets, books, puppets and small toys.
“Rhonda has a tremendous work ethic and deep commitment to Delaware youth whose family members have been deployed,” says Jan Seitz, associate dean and director of University of Delaware Cooperative Extension. “Rhonda's work is so exceptional that her efforts have been recognized nationwide. I couldn't be more proud of her and of Delaware 4-H's Military Programs.”
Although Martell received her award for her Air Force programming, Delaware 4-H supports all branches of the service that have a presence in Delaware, including Delaware National Guard. Delaware 4-H Military Programs include overnight and day camps, 4-H Drill Days, financial management training and more.
Article by Margo McDonough