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Happy New Year! I hope that you had a wonderful holiday season and spent lots of time with family. I also wish that your football teams won their Bowl games (well, I did go to Oklahoma State and had to pull for my Pokes).

Anyway, what a great 2006 for 4-H and we are looking for a greater 2007. I want you to know about a partnership that we have with the group that is bringing the movie Charlotte’s Web to you. If you have not been or want to go again, please help 4-H as you go out for your entertainment.

So, how are we doing?

We in Alabama love polls and other indicators of our success. We anxiously anticipate the latest football rankings that show which Bowl will host our favorite team. We rightly pat ourselves on the back when a national publication ranks our community as a great place to retire or cites the local golf course as one of the nation’s finest.

On the other hand, we have historically raised a chorus of "Thank goodness for Mississippi" when Alabama’s education system or public services rank near the bottom of state listings. We tend to think that we live by different rules or that some magazine editor off in some snooty big city is just voicing his own prejudices against "the Heart of Dixie." We hunker down, and we generally don’t respond too favorably to either direct or implied criticism.

Well, there is good news to temper the bad news that we are used to hearing. Each year, the Annie E. Casey Foundation crunches the statistical facts about childhood in every state. Their Alabama Kids Count Data Book profiles child well-being in each of our state’s 67 counties. They look at information detailing how much we care about the health, safety, education and economic security of all Alabama’s children.

The 2006 National 4-H Congress in Atlanta, November 24-29, 2006. The Alabama group joined more than nine hundred delegates from throughout the United States and its territories at the five-day conference, held at the Atlanta Hyatt Regency Hotel. Representing Alabama were 4-Hers (no particular order) Andrew Brymer, Jefferson County; T.J. Wallace, Limestone County; Deborah Garrett, Shelby County; Katie Harbour, Shelby County; Sarah McCullough, Chilton County; Stephanie Sanford, Clay County; Erin Johnson, Jackson County; Nic Townsend, Winston County; and Ethan Walker, Winston County. Accompanying the 4-Hers from the Auburn University Alabama Cooperative Extension System were regional 4-H agent Kim Good and Youth Development Lamar Nichols.

The good news is that the national Kids Count Data Book reveals that Alabama made significant improvement in child well-being. Over the past year, we moved from 48th to 43rd in overall national rankings. The most improved areas include infant mortality rate, birth to unmarried teens, first-grade retention, high school dropout rate and child death rate. The only area that dropped is the number of low weight births in Alabama, which mirrors the national trend.

The fact that we went up five places is a significant accomplishment, but it remains a benchmark that reminds us that we can do better. Would Auburn or Alabama football fans be satisfied if their favorite team ranked 43rd out of 50? Would a NASCAR fan celebrate the fact that his preferred driver finished 7th from the bottom? Would any of us who are parents put a bumper sticker on our car: "My Kid is in the Poorest 14% of Her Class"?

Most of us think that nobody values families and kids more than we do in Alabama. At least we say that. But what can we do to put our noble ideals and words into action? Why can’t we set a reasonable goal of at least being average in how we take care of kids and families?

Maybe we tend to think that the challenge is too big for us to resolve. Maybe we think that the problem lies at someone else’s feet. But it seems that there are things that we can do. We can continuously ask our political leaders: "What are you doing to make our children healthier and better educated?" We can think statewide, but we can also begin by acting locally…in our churches, in our service clubs, and in our communities.

And there is more good news. Some Alabama communities are already being recognized for their initiative. For example, America’s Promise, "The Alliance for Youth," has recognized Sylacauga, as one of the Top 100 Best Communities for Young People. This honor comes in response to Sylacauga’s commitment to provide healthy, safe and caring environments for young people. It is a reason for great pride, an accomplishment that gives an entirely different perspective to our polls about who has the best sports teams.

There won’t be any easy answers, but at least we can start asking the right questions.

Until next time, God Bless!

James Shropshire is the Alabama 4-H Regional Extension Agent for the Central Alabama Region. E-mail him at [email protected].



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Date Last Updated January, 2006