May | June 2018

Stakeholder Corner: 4–H Mentoring Program Helps Mitigate Effects of Opioid Crisis on Youth in West Virginia
By Leslie Lehman, Cabell County 4–H Youth Development Mentoring Program

Like too many other states across the nation, West Virginia has been affected by the opioid crisis and Cabell County has been hit particularly hard. In 2017 alone, we led the state in overdose deaths. Funded through an OJJDP grant, the 4–H Youth and Families With Promise (4–H YFP) Program is helping at-risk youth in affected communities, such as ours, develop social and emotional skills that may not be nurtured elsewhere.

In our area, 4–H YFP is known as the Cabell County 4–H Youth Development Mentoring Program and is aimed at youth with below-average school performance, poor social skills, and/or weak family bonds. West Virginia University Extension Service partners with the National 4–H Council to facilitate the program.

The high level of poverty in Cabell County can make it challenging for the children to travel to sites for programs, so we bring the program to them. We currently have programs at three locations—two elementary schools and a church—serving third, fourth, and fifth graders.

The Cabell County 4–H Youth Development Mentoring Program consists of several successful initiatives, including quilting and gardening clubs and the Governor's Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Initiative.

One of the quilting club’s largest project to date was making quilts for 4–H youth in Texas after Hurricane Harvey. This was a way for our kids to show that they were thinking of those affected and to offer them comfort in their time of need. Youth in the gardening club have transformed the grounds of Explorer Academy, an elementary school in Huntington, into a viable garden full of tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, and herbs. The program at Altizer Elementary engages the children in a variety of STEM activities. Recently, the kids assembled and coded LEGO robots after which they competed to see which robot could kick a ball the farthest.

The Cabell County 4–H Youth Development Mentoring Program is a vital part of our battle against the opioid crisis and its effects on our youth. In addition to gaining important life skills, the children know they can count on us to provide a safe haven and guidance from an adult who cares. As my colleague, Nila Cobb, West Virginia University Extension Service 4–H Specialist says, “There is not one solution [to the opioid epidemic]. We need to establish a continuum of care and wrap our arms around these children.”

With funding from OJJDP, we are doing just that.


Leslie Lehman is the instructor for 4–H Mentoring Programs in Cabell County, WV. She is dedicated to improving the lives of at-risk youth, particularly those facing poverty and family substance abuse issues.