Partnering with 4-H: Helping to Make the Right Choices for a Healthy Future

*Note: Interviews were conducted before COVID-19 restrictions.

At the start of an after-school program in Campbell Elementary in Lincoln, Nebraska, the students were about to begin a lesson in nutrition with a teacher who was learning valuable lessons at the same time. 

Ellie Babcock serves as a 4-H Teen Ambassador with the Healthy Futures program, which works with local communities and schools to teach the importance of nutritious lifestyle choices. In turn, the high school senior has the opportunity to develop and grow lifelong skills in leadership, communication and mentorship. 

On this particular day, she’s working alongside Courtney Eitzmann, Nebraska EFNEP nutrition assistant, to lead a lesson on nutrition labels. The students will then get a chance to put their learnings into practice by creating an apple cinnamon wrap.

“I think it's important for those youth to know about healthy living when they're young so they can create those healthy habits,” Ellie said, “and then when they go off to college and they're living on their own, they have that foundation for them to know what is a healthy diet and how to stay active.” 

The Healthy Futures programOpens a new window currently exists in five states — Nebraska, Arizona, Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee — thanks to a $500,000 grant from UnitedHealthcare. More than 6,800 youth and their families, plus 100 Teen Ambassadors, are a part of the pilot program that aims to bring nutrition education to local schools — and beyond.  

Using a fun curriculum about healthy eating choices, students are able to pass on this knowledge to their peers and family, extending the reach. The participating schools are all Title 1 — with at least half of its students eligible for free or reduced lunch.

“For UnitedHealthcare, our partnership with 4-H allows us to really work with community organizations and develop the strategic and very purposeful relationships, so that we can bring to these communities  information and education, and really empower individuals to lead healthier lives,” said Kathy Mallatt, CEO of the UnitedHealthcare Community Plan of Nebraska.

Promoting nutrition and developing career skills are two areas of youth development that 4-HOpens a new window and the Nebraska ExtensionOpens a new window excel at — and this program helps create an environment where both can thrive. 

For Ellie, she’ll take the experiences she’s gained in the last 10 years with 4-H as she heads to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln this fall. She credits 4-H with giving her the opportunity to discover a career path in fashion, noting it was here that she uncovered a talent for working with textiles. Taking that love of sewing and design, coupled with the leadership skills she gained through the Healthy Futures program, Ellie feels ready to tackle this next chapter — and beyond. 

“I think just having those solid leadership skills and communication skills is very beneficial throughout your entire life, especially through college,” she said. “This means having the right communicating skills for class projects, talking to your teachers and just making sure that you're a leader to those around you, and you are representing what a good leader is.”

No endorsement of UnitedHealthcare’s products or services is granted or implied by 4‑H, the US government, or any of its organizational units or employees.