Creating a welcoming 4-H club space

4-H volunteers can take simple steps to make all youth feel welcome at 4-H experiences.

Pens and notepads stacked up on a table.
Photo credit: Pixabay.

A large part of welcoming spaces is that youth feel a sense of belonging. That sense of belonging helps youth thrive. This can occur through positive relationships with adults in the program. Youth can benefit from adults:

  • Investing time in their development.
  • Showing an interest in them.
  • Helping youth see the possibilities in their future.
  • Stretching youth and challenging them in new ways​.
  • Holding them accountable.
  • Listening to their ideas​.
  • Treating them fairly​.
  • Respecting them.

It is human nature to make quick impressions and assumptions that may or may not be accurate. However, these assumptions can lead to challenges between youth and adults. The key is to be curious to explore how and why you made that assumption and if it affects your ability to be fair and equitable to all youth. Sometimes we make a mistake and it is important to be willing to acknowledge that, correct the situation, and model the behavior that you want from youth in terms of respect and inclusion.

Being curious with the youth (and yourself) can help you figure out what is going on in a situation and if you are making assumptions too quickly, too. We all have to constantly work on this skill to create a welcoming and inclusive environment where everyone feels they belong. It also contributes to keeping youth safe as they experience positive boundaries with caring adults.  ​

A welcoming environment starts from the beginning of an interaction, continues during the meeting or event, and is still important after the meeting or event. Inclusive communication is a common thread throughout the welcoming environment. ​Michigan State University Extension and Michigan 4-H Youth Development have a few tips to help create a welcoming and thriving space:​

  • Send welcome packets to families to support new members joining the program.
  • Consider room set-up and program location​s that communicate a welcoming and accessible environment.
  • Use the name and pronouns that the youth want; learn youth names​.
  • Avoid making assumptions about capabilities and mental health. Don't assume and allow participants to self-identify.​
  • Say hello to everyone who enters and welcome them​ to the meeting or event.
  • ​Ask youth and families what ways they prefer to be communicated with and try to honor that, if possible. You can send reminders through group texts or communication apps like Remind.
  • Follow up if you have not seen a youth or family in a while. Encourage them to join back in again (a personalized quick note can go a long way!)​.
  • Look at your notes on different life events or celebrations happening in a young person's life and inquire about those. For example, did a youth share they were excited about an upcoming concert or nervous about a test?
  • Allow youth to serve as the leaders or teachers through show-and-tells or self-created presentations; youth voice is important for a space of belonging.

By creating a welcoming and inclusive space, youth can thrive and move into futures that provide them direction and purpose.

For more information on building a welcoming 4-H environment and to view helpful volunteer training content, check out the MSU Extension Michigan 4-H Volunteer Webinar Series webpage.

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