Delaware 4-H announced Feb. 1 that Sarah Bell of Seaford is the first recipient of the Delaware 4-H Diamond Clover Award, the highest honor a 4-H member can earn. The 4-H Diamond Clover Award is Delaware 4-H’s formal acknowledgment of Bell’s achievement in making a significant difference in her community and state.
Delaware 4-H has long acknowledged excellence with blue ribbons, trophies, and project pins, and has awarded many scholarships to its 4-H members. However, as the largest youth program in the nation, 4-H did not have a signature capstone award to honor members who demonstrated extraordinary, sustained and focused service learning in their community. Before a crowd of adult 4-H volunteer leaders, University of Delaware Cooperative Extension and 4-H staff, family and friends, Bell was officially presented with the inaugural award.
“The Boy Scout Eagle is the gold standard of youth awards, and it was used as the model for the Diamond Clover,” said Dan Tabler, a retired 4-H agent with a long tristate career in Delaware, Maryland and West Virginia.
To attain the Diamond Clover Award, a 4-H member must progress through five stages. Upon completion, each stage is marked with a gemstone award designation - amethyst, aquamarine, ruby, sapphire, emerald and diamond. “The sixth level requires the 4-H member to propose a major community service project that must be approved by a local Diamond Clover Committee and the state 4-H project leader,” said Tabler.
At the award ceremony, Delaware 4-H program leader Mark Manno described the 4-H Diamond Clover Award process as intense, noting that the final level will likely take more than one year to complete. “It is not a race; it is a journey,” Manno said.
After Bell’s presentation, Manno held up his index finger and acknowledged the power of one. “That’s one 4-H’er. There are hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of youth who are capable of making a difference like Sarah has made,” he said. Manno told the audience that approximately 80 Delaware 4-H youth are presently working on one of the six levels toward a Diamond Clover Award.
Bell selected childhood illiteracy as her sustained service-learning project after hearing a presentation from Read Aloud Delaware given at Sussex Tech High School, where Bell is a member of the class of 2014. She titled her project Read to Succeed Delaware! and through exhaustive research, Bell discovered that one in five Delawareans is functionally illiterate.
Bell learned that illiteracy rates could be positively impacted if children were reached at a young age. Her examination of the issue also revealed families with low income had few or no children’s books in the home, a significant contributor to illiteracy.
Bell conceived a plan to establish a means by which families could obtain free children’s books. Bell partnered with the Delaware State Service Center, operated by Delaware’s Division of Health and Human Services.
All 15 centers agreed to provide space and a table for reading and obtaining literacy resources. Bell then approached Read Aloud Delaware and pitched the idea to permanently sponsor the literacy centers. They were willing to help, Bell explained, on the condition that she first establish an initial supply of books to serve all 15 centers, as well as create or obtain literacy resources and displays for families visiting the centers.
Bell recruited a team of 12 youth and adults, and began the process of fundraising and establishing book drives throughout her community. Bell also took advantage of valuable contacts in her communities at Delaware 4-H, Delaware Girl Scouts and Gethsemane United Methodist Church. Bell credits them for giving her moral support, agreeing to serve as book donation sites, or donating books or the money to purchase them.
Bell put the donations to efficient use and became a book bargain hunter, finding suitable children’s books for as low as 10 cents apiece at yard sales and thrift stores. Her church community led in donations for the approximately 3,000 books needed to get the literacy centers in operation. Read Aloud Delaware now oversees responsibility.
The 15 centers, along with new parents at Nanticoke Memorial Hospital, now have access to bilingual materials that stress the importance of literacy and point to where literary resources are available.
Bell soon realized her ultimate goal was less about the award than it was about making a lasting difference. “It taught me that I can be capable of leading adults as well as youth, and that I can achieve things that I previously thought were beyond my abilities,” she said.
In addition to 4-H, Bell has received numerous recognitions in the Girl Scouts, is a 2014 recipient of the Jefferson Award for Public Service, and is active in her school and church organizations. Bell plans to one day become an elementary school teacher.