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Original 4-H play promotes literacy
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- First Lady Laura Bush is among the hundreds of spectators this summer expected to view a play by Mississippi 4-H members promoting literacy.
The lead writer of “Sarah and the Magical Mix-Up” was Linda Mitchell, 4-H technology and creative programming specialist with Mississippi State University's Extension Service.
“Literacy is a focus of the 4-H Congressional Awards because that is the First Lady's initiative and she works closely with the awards program,” Mitchell said. “I looked for existing and affordable plays that would promote reading but could not find any. That's when I decided to write one.”
Mitchell said some 4-H members have been earning hours of community service in literacy by interactive reading on a local television station. They jumped at the chance to be involved in this play. After almost 50 young people responded to the casting call for 16 acting spots, Mitchell added two more characters to the cast and understudies for each of the actors. Performers come from seven counties including Attala, Itawamba, Lee, Pontotoc, Prentiss, Tishomingo and Union.
The story line for "Sarah and the Magical Mix-Up" encourages children to read. When a young girl named Sarah throws a book of fairytales against the wall, the characters fall out and get all mixed up. Suddenly the Giant from Jack and the Beanstalk is chasing Cinderella, two Big Bad Wolves are fighting over Little Red Riding Hood, the Wicked Witch is stirring up a batch of trouble and much, much more.
“Sarah discovers that reading can open a door to other worlds and to the people who live in them,” Mitchell said. “The play is filled with laughter as Cinderella teaches the Giant how to ballroom dance, suspense as the Wicked Witch kidnaps a favorite character and tears as Sarah must say good-bye to her new friends.”
The one-hour play debuted in May at North Pontotoc County and Pontotoc city schools. They performed in the New Albany Magnolia Civic Center and again during the state 4-H Congress. Proceeds from the ticket sales will be used to finance their trip to Washington, D.C. in June when they will perform as part of the Gold Congressional Award Program.
“We were very pleased with the response of the audience to the performance and to the message,” Mitchell said. “The actors loved hearing the children laugh and get involved with the production.”
The Congressional Award program was established by the U.S. Congress in 1979 to encourage young people in leadership and personal development. Youth ages 14 to 23 work their way through three progressively more difficult levels of achievement. Personal goals are set in community service, personal development, expedition/exploration and physical fitness.
Lee County 4-H member Nick Simmons is making his acting debut in the role of a wolf in the play.
“This seemed like a good opportunity to try something new and make new friends. I also wanted to support the literacy effort,” Simmons said. “It seemed like a good way to inspire young children to read.”
A recent graduate of Saltillo High School, Simmons is a Gold Medal Congressional Award winner and currently serves as state 4-H president. Gold medals are given to youth who complete the top level in the Congressional Awards program.
“The Congressional Awards program mirrors what 4-H is all about: community service, leadership, health and fitness,” Simmons said.
Mitchell said the Congressional Award is the highest award the U.S. Congress presents to young Americans.
“Young people who get in the habit of performing community service and constantly improving themselves tend to continue this pattern for the rest of their lives,” Mitchell said.
Rep. Roger Wicker recognizes the special effort Congressional Award recipient have put into their community service.
“It is a special honor for these young men and women to be selected to perform at the awards program in Washington, D.C. Using their talents in a play to highlight the need to improve literacy is a unique way of promoting the ideals of community service and leadership that are key elements of the Congressional Award program," Wicker said.
For more information on the Congressional Awards program or on the play, contact Mitchell at (662) 566-2201.