Encouraging Sparks of Engagement

University of Minnesota Extension

By Carrie Ann Olson, Extension Educator, Associate Extension Professor

December 2020

Some of the strength of the 4-H youth development program is its delivery through clubs or groups of youth supported by caring adults.  Clubs often have some regular routines like meeting monthly and providing service to their community.  It is these traditions and routines that have been challenging.  Experts say one way to navigate this time of change is to create new routines and options in place of those that have been lost.  Recognizing that 4-H staff and volunteers are positioned to offer positive alternatives when there are cancellations, the fourth Virtual Volunteer Gathering topic was developed to focus on Encouraging Community Involvement.

Engagement in community is part of the 4-H Pledge – “I pledge my hands to larger service”.  Every day, 4-H members take the 4-H Pledge in which they commit to positively contributing to their communities and the world around them.  Community involvement and community service have been a part of the 4-H Youth Development Program from the very beginning when the program was founded over 100 years ago.  Research has shown a significant difference in involvement in community service between 4-H members and the general youth audience.   4-H youth are nearly 4x more likely to make contributions to their communities.  Individuals who participate in community service as a youth are far more likely to actively volunteer in their community as adults with 4-H youth being about 2x more likely to be civically active.  This community involvement is learned through mentoring and experiential learning. 

Life offers many opportunities through current events or within a youth’s personal life that become opportunities for caring adults to have conversations with youth about challenging topics and the world around them.  Encouraging youth to share about what is important to them or things that they question can help identify topics to focus upon.  Community involvement can include services such as helping fix up a park, sewing masks, or decorating a care facility.  It can also be hosting a guest speaker or a community forum for open discussion on a topic of interest. 

The Creating Space for Dialogue on Difficult and Important Topics with youth guide is designed for families, clubs, or groups of friends to have open conversations about difficult but important topics.  It provides guidelines for creating a safe space for all to share feelings, thoughts, concerns, ideas, etc. about important topics. It also helps us practice listening to different viewpoints without trying to “fix” or “change” them.  Youth need to learn how to:

  • Respectfully express their opinion
  • Civilly acknowledge those who hold different beliefs from our own
  • Understand multiple perspectives from peers, family and others  

During this COVID time it’s important to have routine and rituals.  So continue to meet following social distancing guidelines or try virtually meeting.  Create safe spaces for conversation and find ways to encourage service and involvement in the community.  For more information about encouraging community involvement or the virtual volunteer gatherings please contact me, [email protected]