Georgia 4-H'er Amelia Day Named National 2017 Youth in Action Winner

When Amelia Day, a Houston County, Georgia, 4-H’er, made a few cards for some local U.S. veterans in 2012, she didn’t know it would turn into a national 4-H award and campaign five years later. She was just trying to make them smile.

Day is the winner of National 4-H Council’s 2017 Youth in Action Award and Youth in Action Citizenship Pillar Award. She attended the national 4-H Legacy Awards event in March alongside celebrity 4-H alumni. She was honored For her service project, “Operation: Veteran Smiles,” at the event and received a $10,000 scholarship for higher education.

Day comes from a family of veterans that includes her father, Ken, and both of her grandfathers. A visit to Carl Vinson Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical Center in Dublin, Georgia, alongside her father for an appointment sparked the thought that would become her award-winning project.

“I didn’t understand why they (veterans) were all alone (at the hospital), so I went home and did some research and found out veterans have to go where there is an opening,” she said. “Many of them have to go without family accompanying them.”

A home-schooled member of 4-H since she was 9 years old, Day saw this as an opportunity to give back. She got some paper and markers and started working, then enlisted her family’s help. “Operation: Veteran Smiles” was born.

“It was January, and it was cold and rainy,” Day said. “My mom and several of my sisters went to the VA to make the first delivery. When we were leaving, some of them came up to us crying, and that just meant so much to me.”

After the first visit, another need became apparent. Veterans often don’t have access to toiletries since they often come alone, and the hospitals don’t have extra money for items like shampoo, tissues and deodorant. Day started adding these items and organized them into care packages, usually with a pack of playing cards. She soon began receiving donations from other 4-H clubs, even playing cards all the way from Nevada 4-H.

Since “Operation: Veteran Smiles” started, Day has organized deliveries of more than 6,000 care packages. The publicity that came from winning the award grew Day’s project from having a local focus to being a national effort. National 4-H Council sponsor U.S. Cellular has expanded the program’s reach to other VA medical centers, including Asheville, North Carolina, and has plans for other deliveries in locations like Chicago.

“Amelia has proven herself to be uniquely capable of inspiring her peers to find purpose and passion,” said Jennifer Sirangelo, president and CEO of National 4‑H Council. “4‑H’ers like Amelia show what a tremendous impact young people can make in their communities when they are given the chance to lead.”

As for Day, she’s taking the year to travel as a national 4-H Ambassador to make these deliveries in person, discuss her initiative with 4-H audiences and consider her future education. While she thinks about her future, assisting veterans stays on her mind.

“Seeing their smiles is so heartwarming,” she said.

Learn more about Operation Veteran Smiles or donate a care package.

By Josh Paine

Amelia Day is the national 2017 4‑H Youth in Action winner, the 2017 4‑H Youth in Action Citizenship winner and a recent high school graduate in Fort Valley, Georgia. Amelia’s 4‑H project, Operation: Veteran Smiles, provides care packages to veterans staying in VA hospitals.