U of MN Extension

4-H is making leaders for the future

Brian McNeill, Extension Educator

January 2017

4-H is one of the nation's largest youth development programs and one of the largest in the world. 4-H provides meaningful opportunities for young people to reach their full potential through experiential learning and engagement strategies. It is well established that participation in 4-H has the potential to improve outcomes for young people and build assets in key areas identified through Search Institute research (Benson, Scales, Hamilton, & Sesma, 2006).

4-H is also building leaders for tomorrow. One aspect of being a leader is being able to organize and facilitate meetings. In 4-H, youth are given the opportunity to practice running meetings in a safe and supportive environment. In a 4-H Club setting, youth have the opportunity to build agendas, lead meetings, and be a part of working committees. This all happens with the guidance of caring volunteers and a variety of ages of youth members. Through participation in club meetings, 4-H members also feel more comfortable joining activities and encouraging each other. Members are able to master new skills and learn new things through club participation where they have opportunities to hold key leadership roles and express their opinions. 

Extension faculty, staff, and volunteers reaffirm the importance of 4-H club meetings as an essential service delivery component and continually reinforce the efforts of club leaders in developing and sustaining positive relationships with members. Club leaders are encouraged to continue providing opportunities for 4-H members to engage in a variety of new and interesting activities at club meetings and ensure that meetings are designed to encourage youth-led discussions, promote youth decision making, and to provide leadership opportunities in order to maximize opportunities for youth development of mastery and independence.

By appropriately role modeling and providing safe opportunity for youth to lead and run meetings, volunteers and staff are preparing them to be the leaders of tomorrow in our communities. Providing youth the opportunities now will help them see why it will be important to serve and make a difference when they become adults. 

Adults working with 4-H club officers to competently run a smooth business meeting can help encourage these youth to develop leadership and management skills that can benefit them the rest of their lives. A well-run business meeting will also ensure all of the members of the club have an equal voice and vote. A younger club youth can feel as if his or her voice counts as much as a teenagers, and this younger youth can begin to learn some leadership and management skills as he/she watches the club officers in action. Leaders need to enable and encourage the officers to run a business meeting, and ensure that the club members participate in discussing and voting on club business. Adult leaders need to serve in an advisory role and not run a meeting for the youth. 

Encouraging and helping youth today will ensure that our communities will have the leadership needed to continue our service clubs and local governing boards and committees. Encourage youth to get involved and join an organization that trains them to be the leaders of tomorrow.

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