At risk youth and 4-H civic engagement programs

Research shows that civic engagement empowers young people and improves their motivation to make change.

Disenfranchised youth, youth out of school or at risk of dropping out school, youth involved in the juvenile justice system, and runaway and/or homeless youth seldom benefit from traditional youth programming. Often these youth are the ones who can benefit most from opportunities for personal development and are in need of the essential life skills these programs offer. Lack of funding for youth development programs often leads either to underserving youth or never engaging youth in this population. Michigan State University Extension recommends engaging youth by bringing programs to places where these youth are more apt to participate in one of the ways to begin targeting this previously unreachable audience. Having these youth identify issues that affect them and begin to create solutions to these issuses can also be a means of engaging at risk youth.

Kahn, Max and Paluzzi (2007), explain, “Community means different things to different people. Some may identify with a community based on geographic location; others, on racial or ethnic identity; and still others, on lifestyles, interests, or values. Sometimes, youth who have been marginalized create their own non-traditional communities based on shared circumstances, behavior and goals.”

Youth serving organizations need to consider redefining the definition of community, identify the challenges to reaching at risk youth and create effective community strategies.Youth service organizations need to expand their view of community to include those youth living in communities founded not only on shared locations and relationships, but also on circumstances and experiences. One way to reach these audiences is to assists them in defining a cause for community change that affects their community, however it is defined. The Forum for Youth Investment notes research suggests that youth who are actively engaged in social change must have opportunities to act on their passion, use their skills, and generate change through relevant and sustained action.(Hathi & Bhaermann, p.11).

Michigan 4-H Youth Development offers some unique curriculum that can be used to develop skills and get youth involved in community change.

The Backpack to Adventure curriculum focuses on developing five competencies that are considered important for becoming a youth leader in a globalized, interconnected world. These five competencies are character, citizenship, communication, creativity and culture.

The Governments Is Us curriculum was created to help youth experience citizenship and civic education. The goal is to have teens develop the attitudes, knowledge and skills necessary to be active citizens and practice what they learn in their local communities. This curriculum is arranged in such a way so that it provides a coherent plan for anyone interested in starting a youth group with a local citizenship focus. It is designed to lead youth through the process of becoming active in the local political process.


  • Hathi, S., & Bhaerman (n.d.) Effective activities for engaging at-risk youth in service. Youth Service America. Retrieved from :
  • Kahn, A., Max,. J., & Pauluzzi, P. (2007). Engaging youth on their own turf: Creative approaches to connecting youth through community. Washington DC: Healthy Teen Network.
  • Wilson-Simmons, R. (2007). Engaging youth on their own turf: Creative approaches to connecting youth through community (Foreword-Annie E. Casey Foundation). Washington DC: Healthy Teen Network.

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