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Stitching for safety: Creative 4-H member pitches in to help community

Diana Ward, 4-H Cre8 Club president and a Citrus High School graduating senior, sews face masks as a way to support Citrus County during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Citizens across the country have stepped forward in this time of need to support their communities. Many have provided health care workers with meals and a place to stay, or are volunteering at food distribution sites or staying home to stop the spread.

Americans are unified and strong. Young people are also engaged in these community conversations, using their skills and expertise to make a difference in their communities.

Diana Ward, a Citrus High School senior dual enrolled at the College of Central Florida, is the president of the 4-H Cre8 sewing club. The Citrus County 4-H program empowers youths with hands-on experiences learning the skills to lead for a lifetime. When news outlets began reporting the COVID-19 virus was moving across the country, Ward began researching to learn more about the disease and its impacts on people and communities.

Ward has a passion for science and a drive to educate her community. Earlier this year, she shared with her fellow 4-H members the value of immunizations and the responsibilities of citizens to one another.

When asked about the pandemic, Ward said, “I had heard about a novel virus in China, but I didn’t realize it would come to have such an impact on my life.”

By the end of March, all Citrus County Schools were closed and all County 4-H Club meetings were canceled.

Ward then learned that the virus could be spread by close contact and that face masks could reduce the spread. In that, she saw a way to help.

An avid sewer, Ward began sewing when she was 8 years old. She had designed and sewn dresses, bags and blankets for her family, friends and herself. Over time, she began to use her growing sewing skills to help those in her community.

In 2017, when Hurricane Irma passed over Citrus County, Ward and her sister made personal air conditioners for linemen restoring power. The air conditioners were sewn to form a tube of fabric, filled with cooling beads; the tube could be placed across the back of the neck.

Ward also organized her 4-H club to make blankets to donate to children in need and later to sew pillowcases for hospitalized children.

Recognizing the need for face masks, she began sewing them for her family and friends. While 4-H clubs were not meeting, Ward continued to talk by phone and Zoom teleconferencing software, with her sewing mentor and 4-H club leader, Sue Collins.

When the call came that a local home health care business needed masks, Ward was quick to respond and get to work. Her days are now filled with online high school and college classes, and evenings with mask making. She has moved on from the disappointment of losing senior prom, awards night, and face-to-face graduation in May; instead, she is focused on a plan for the future and the difference she can make.

In July, Ward will begin classes in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at the University of Florida, where she plans to study microbiology and genetics.

The 4-H program is open to all youths ages 5-18 years old, and uses a learn-by-doing approach to help them gain knowledge and skills to become responsible, productive citizens. Contact the Citrus County UF/IFAS Extension office to learn more about available programs, including sewing.

Marnie Ward and Sue Collins Special to the Chronicle

Marnie Ward is UF/IFAS 4-H agent, and Sue Collins is 4-H Cre8 Club leader.