Organization’s yearly gathering provides gifts and empowerment


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Staff Writer

EAST BRUNSWICK — Junior and Teen Councils from 4-H Youth provided a free day of holiday shopping for more than 130 families in need.

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The annual Project GIFT holiday charitable event was held Dec. 10 at the Middlesex County 4-H Center in East Brunswick. For the 20th year, more than 75 4-H teens assisted with the fundraising and organization of the event to reach more than 350 children throughout the county.

“[Project] GIFT is an opportunity for 4-H Youth in the Junior and Teen Councils to undertake a community service project, enabling them to give back to their community, in this case limited-resource families [from] Middlesex County,” said David Smela, public information assistant for the Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Middlesex County.

“It’s not really open to the public for assistance, but our 4-H staff gets families to invite by working with our SNAP–Ed and EFNEP programs, which are Rutgers programs serving Middlesex County that also share our Extension office here at the EARTH Center home to Middlesex County’s office of Rutgers Cooperative Extension,” Smela said.

From providing a dunk tank during the Middlesex County Fair to running a haunted house for the entire month of October, members of 4-H Youth dedicated hours of their time to raise funds for Project GIFT.

According to Smela, funds are then used to buy presents and supplies, making this event comfortable and fun for attendees. Age-appropriate gifts, refreshments and wrapping supplies are among the items acquired by 4-H teens and staff.

Many donations are also made by individuals and local businesses.

“About 20 years ago, members of our teen groups were talking about picking out an event that they could do annually, so we came up with Project GIFT and see the families gain a sense of empowerment by being able to pick out gifts for their children — the teens became really invested so everything we do is around this event, and the teens have an equal part in running it,” County 4-H Agent Laura Bovitz said.

“I love being part of Project GIFT because it is so much more than gifts. I work with the kids and seeing them and their families, it’s overwhelming and you really get into the whole spirit of giving back to the community,” said 11-year-old Tara Duffy, a 4-H Youth member.

“I really like [participating in Project GIFT] because it gives you a sense of pride and joy to see the kids and their parents face to face and knowing that you helped provide them with the opportunity to have gifts this Christmas. It’s great and fulfilling,” fellow 11-year-old Youth member David Wolverton said.

The 4-H Youth Development Program uses a learn-by-doing approach to enable youth to develop the knowledge, attitudes and skills they need to become competent, caring and contributing citizens of the world. This is accomplished by using the knowledge and resources of caring adults, according to the Rutgers University website.

“The kids get the opportunity to gain life skills such as leadership, community and citizenship skills which are important. [4-H] gives them a place where they can explore their interests while also gaining important skills, such as public speaking,” Bovitz said.

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