AMES, Iowa -- Anna Jo Cowan’s efforts prove that 4-H not only makes individual youth better citizens and communicators, but it also can create a powerful group of children and teens to influence state and national leaders.
Cowan, a nine-year 4-H member and a senior at Abraham Lincoln High School in Council Bluffs, received the 2010 Youth Leadership Award on May 4. Mari Culver, the first lady of Iowa, presented the award at the Youth and Shelter Services Risky Business Conference in Ames. “Anna Jo’s community has truly benefited from her endeavors, her efforts and her advocacy and service,” Culver said.
Cowan has served as a 4-H club officer and on the West Pottawattamie 4-H youth committee council. She also is a member of the National Honor Society, the SEI Leadership Academy and her school leadership council. She is most recognized for her efforts to pass legislation in Nebraska with the help of other 4-H youth and Sen. Tom Carlson.
After a drunk driver killed her father in May 2009, she made it her mission to pass a Dram Shop Bill in Nebraska. A Dram Shop Law holds a liquor establishment responsible for over-serving alcohol to a patron that caused injury to any person or property while intoxicated. The drunk driver that killed Joe Cowan had spent the day drinking in an Omaha bar. Nebraska is one of eight states that do not have a Dram Shop Law applied to people over 21 years old. Cowan believes that this law would encourage bar owners to limit their customers’ drinking and potentially save lives.
Cowan contacted her fellow 4-H’ers in Nebraska to encourage their senators to get the bill passed.
“My 4-H experience really helped me to stay on task and look at the big picture. Losing my father was the most devastating experience that I have ever gone through,” she said. “I wanted to turn my pain into something productive and help other families avoid this sort of tragedy. My 4-H experience helped me to reach out to others for help.”
The Dram Shop Bill was introduced to the Judiciary committee by Carlson in February 2010, but did not proceed further due to time restrictions. It will be reintroduced in early 2011.
Cowan credits her Iowa 4-H experience for giving her the confidence to pursue the Dram Shop Bill. Through her work as a club officer and her presentations at the county and state fairs, she was able to develop her leadership and communication skills.
“Probably the most confidence and experience occurred when I met with the judges during fair time,” she said, “I always enjoyed the experience and would learn new things every year, which I could build on the next year.”
4-H youth coordinators design programs in every area to allow young people gain confidence. Jennifer Vincent, West Pottawattamie County youth coordinator, believes Cowan can set an example of perseverance.
“I have seen her leadership, citizenship and communication skills grow exponentially from the time she first joined 4-H,” she said. “She proves that no matter your age, you can make a positive change and make a difference in someone’s life.”
Cowan plans to attend Creighton University to major in biology and minor in business. She wants to continue her 4-H activity in college by serving as a Westfair County fair judge.
About the Iowa 4-H Youth Development Program
4-H is the nation’s largest youth development organization, serving more than 6 million young people across America with programs in leadership, citizenship, communication and life skills. One in five Iowa school-age youth participates in 4-H. In Iowa, 4-H Youth Development is headquartered at the Iowa State University campus in Ames. 4-H is supported by federal, state and county funding, private grants and donations, and fees. For more information about joining 4-H, contact your Iowa State University Extension county office at www.extension.iastate.edu/content/county-offices/ or visit www.extension.iastate.edu/4H.