:4-Her Cati Aevaliotis, a senior at Alcovy High School, hands out books during the Covington Christmas Parade last Saturday. "I liked handing out the children's books at the Christmas parade. It was really cool seeing these kids getting all excited when I handed them a book," Aevaliotis said. - Staff Photo: Sue Ann Kuhn-Smith
COVINGTON -- Newton County 4-H is the second place winner in the Keep America Beautiful awards in the Waste Reduction/Recycling category for youth groups and schools.
The award comes on the heels of 4-H winning second place in the same category in the Keep Georgia Beautiful awards.
"Many people think 4-H is just about cows and corn, but today's 4-H'ers are all about leadership, community service and citizenship," said Terri Kimble, Newton's 4-H agent. "We commit to caring for our community and world, by learning about science and technology, allowing youth to design and lead service projects to meet our community's needs, and encouraging every 4-H'er to take an active role."
The reason the local 4-H focuses on protecting the environment is simple: The students want to, Kimble said.
"It's not just something I come up with and make the kids do -- these are really projects that youth decide are important," she said. "We do a variety of waste reduction, recycling and environmental stewardship educational activities, and then the youth build on it from there."
During the last four years, 4-H members have collected more than 8,000 used and new books to donate to The Learning Center. Middle and high school students clean, sort, label and hand out around 1,000 each year at the Covington Christmas Parade.
"We know that simply having a book in the house before the age of 5 is critical for children to learn to read on time, and to stay on track in school, so we're able to address literacy needs in the community and keep books out of the landfill at the same time," Kimble said.
This year, the project was expanded by the Youth Summit team. The Youth Summit is a biannual event where four youths and one adult join to work on a community need.
The 4-H team decided to expand the book collection to benefit the Newton County Library, Kimble said.
"Their work this year has been phenomenal. We've collected more than 20,000 books just this fall," Kimble said. "The library held their fall book sale, and already has a large collection toward the spring sale. Plus, we've provided both new and used books for The Learning Center."
The Youth Summit team is 4-H volunteer and local veterinarian Dr. Leslie Lathem, and youths Will Holder, Flannery Peay, Michelle Lewis and Mary Lathem.
"Distributing books is important to me because reading is one of the most important things in life, and kids should get a jump on that at a young age," said MaKenzy McCord, an eighth-grade home-schooled member of the Northwest District 4-H Junior Board of Directors.
Another 4-H project is recycling at the annual Relay for Life. 4-H has the only youth-led team in the county, which honors members' relatives who have or have had cancer. While participating in the event, 4H'ers noticed a lot of plastic bottles and cans being thrown away.
"Each year, 4-H'ers use bins from Keep Covington Newton Beautiful to collect recycling at the event," Kimble said. "The first year, however, they went around at midnight to collect the recycling and found a new problem: trash in every bin. Concerned that the recyclables might have to be thrown in the landfill, they literally dug right in. We dumped all the bags, emptied leftover drinks, removed lids, and sorted all the recycling and garbage by hand. They also popped all the pop tabs off for the Ronald McDonald House charity."
The following year, 4-H'ers made sure trash bins were located conveniently beside the recycling bins, Kimble said. They continue sorting all recycling at the event each year.
"It's a messy project, but it's become a fun tradition at Relay, and helps raise a little bit of recycling money for our Relay team as well," Kimble said.
Pop tabs from cans are added to the 4-H annual aluminum pop tab collection. This year, Newton 4-H placed third in the district for its collection of 408 pounds of tabs at the Georgia 4-H Junior Conference. The group set a record of 596 pounds several years ago and hopes to beat that one day, Kimble said.
"People may donate their aluminum pop tabs year round in the office. 4-H'ers across the state collect the tabs and bring them together each November to recycle and donate to a local Ronald McDonald House," she said.
Audrey Holder, a seventh-grader and member of 4-H said, "I love recycling the poptabs. Not only does it keep them out of the landfills, it also goes to help children in need, and their families."
Pop tabs can be dropped off at the 4-H office, located in the Newton County Extension Office at the Administration Building at 1113 Usher St., Suite 202.