The Role of Volunteers in 4-H/Youth Development
As the new 4-H/Youth Development agent here in Johnson County, I am looking forward to the opportunity to engage families in the 4-H experience. To quote the mission of Kansas 4-H Youth Development, "Kansas 4-H/Youth Development uses unique strategies and opportunities to engage youth in reaching their full potential through partnerships with caring adults." At the heart of our 4-H youth program are those caring adults — our 4-H volunteers.
4-H volunteer Martha Powell shows a 4-H youth sewing materials.Volunteers are the key to fulfilling the program mission. Currently, Johnson County 4-H programs have over 630 youth participants who are impacted daily by our 4-H volunteers. So how do we ensure that our volunteers are trained, caring adults, focused on the core of the 4-H experience? We start with the key ingredients for success, the Essential Elements of 4-H. The National 4-H Impact Design Implementation team identified the essential elements which are critical to a youth's 4-H experience. The elements are; belonging, mastery, independence, and generosity.
Belonging, in the simplest terms, is creating a fellowship between the youth and the adult volunteers, and a sense of connection between group members. The focus for volunteers is providing an atmosphere for 4-H youth to feel physically and emotionally safe while actively participating in a group. Current research emphasizes the importance for youth to have opportunities for long-term, consistent relationships with adults other than their parents. This research suggests that a sense of belonging may be the single, most powerful positive ingredient we can add to the lives of children and youth. The research reinforces the importance of the volunteer's role during a youth's 4-H experience.
Mastery for 4-H youth involves increasing self-confidence. Volunteers must allow youth to feel and believe they are capable while participating in activities. Youth need to experience successes and failures while trying to solve problems and meet challenges in their 4-H endeavors. By exploring projects and activities, youth master the skills necessary for making positive career and life choices. In order to do so, youth must have access to quality, research-based content, and have the opportunity to learn-by-doing. Volunteers have to create a safe environment for youth to make mistakes, and provide constructive feedback, not just through competition, but also as an ongoing element of the group's participation. Finally, adults need to help support the group with a breadth and depth of topics for the youth to pursue their own interests.
This pursuit of individual interests is core to developing the element of independence in participants. Youth need to know that they are able to influence people and events through decision-making and action. By exercising independence through 4-H leadership opportunities, youth mature in their self-discipline and responsibility, learn to better understand themselves and become independent thinkers.
The final essential element is generosity. Adults need to allow youth the opportunity to discover the meaning and purpose of generosity during their 4-H experience. By participating in community service and citizenship activities, youth connect to communities and learn to give back to others. It's clear that these experiences provide the foundation for helping youth understand the "big picture" of life, and find purpose and meaning. Youth learn that they do not live in a secluded world, but in a global community that requires awareness and compassion for others.
Our volunteers are our greatest asset in accomplishing and implementing these four essential elements in our 4-H programming, and in the development of our youth members. We are truly grateful for their time, dedication, passion, and overall belief in the 4-H mission. Thank you.