By Linda Breazeale/MSU Ag Communications
WEST POINT — Jim McAdory wants to surround a group of Choctaw teens with academic and professional examples of people who are pursuing or embracing careers in agriculture.
McAdory, an agent with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, is working with the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians to develop an agricultural mentors program for high school juniors and seniors.
“We want these students to see positive adult influences in agriculture and natural resources. Some of the finest people in the state are working in these fields,” McAdory said. “This program helps the tribe add another protective layer for these youth to take into consideration as they make crucial life choices.”
Some of the choices involve educational venues and future careers. McAdory recently brought some students to the Elizabeth A. Howard 4-H Therapeutic Riding and Activity Center in West Point for the program’s first field trip. Participants interacted with MSU students who explained their interest in horses and the commitment required to work with the animals. They also learned about the benefits of horseback riding from a participant in the therapeutic program.
“We want the teens to understand how to conduct themselves in a positive manner, just as the mentors they have met through the program have done,” he said. “Some of these participants come from challenging backgrounds, but through this mentoring program, they can see how others conduct themselves and make good decisions.”
McAdory said each field trip will enable the students to hear the same messages for success: Work hard, get an education, and show respect.
Lauren Sanders of Bentonia, a junior at MSU majoring in civil engineering, explained how working with horses has helped her.
“Having horses is all about learning how to manage your time and responsibilities,” she told the students.
McAdory said this new mentoring effort is similar to other joint projects Extension has conducted with the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians. One other program has been providing agriculture-related projects for teens to experience, including a cooperative project with the Holmes County Small Farmer’s Alliance.
“Young people have helped on several occasions and received practical farm experience, such as laying plastic mulch and starting vegetable seedlings,” McAdory said. “Everyone identifies the Extension Service as an educational venue for agriculture, but Extension is also partnering with local, state and tribal entities to make a difference in lives all around Mississippi.”
Robert Ben is the coordinator for the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians Green Re-Entry Program, which helps Choctaw teens give back to their community. Some of their projects have overlapped with McAdory’s efforts to find ag mentors for students.
“We have been able to work with Extension to find several projects that introduce the students to gardening or outdoor activities, like cleaning up around Choctaw Lake near Ackerman,” he said. “Some of the graduates of the program even return to help with other projects.”