Guidance for 4-H community service in the aftermath of a natural disaster

Considerations and tips for helping 4-H members organize a service project in response to a natural disaster.

People standing in flooded street

In the immediate aftermath of a disaster, there are often obvious needs highlighted in the media, but these needs fade fast. The recovery from a disaster often takes much longer than the disaster is prevalent in the media. When a disaster first happens, there is much attention paid to the immediate, short-term needs to provide safety and security to residents. The recovery and rebuilding process after a natural disaster can take multiple years. Significant impacts can be accomplished when looking at supporting the long-term needs in a local community.

Generosity is one of the essential elements of 4-H and is a concept that is encouraged at all age levels and in every project area through Michigan 4-H. Learning how to be helpful to others can take many shapes, and every level of generosity helps youth see a world larger than themselves and how they can have meaning and purpose in their life. Helping 4-H members organize a service project in response to a natural disaster is a great way for youth to learn valuable skills related to empathy, organization and problem solving. Here are a few ideas.

  • Consider leading a discussion with youth about their thoughts and feelings. There is a lot going on in the world right now, and hearing about a natural disaster in their state may bring up some emotions. Create a safe space for youth to check in and debrief. Connect with your local 4-H program coordinator if you need help setting up a virtual meeting room.
  • Brainstorm ideas with members. Let their interests and passions drive the process, and then strive to connect those interests with areas of need. They will be more invested in a project if they come up with the ideas instead of adults making all the choices.
  • Use Michigan State University Extension resources to plan a community service project or get involved with local community projects. Supporting a community need by implementing a community service project is a great opportunity for students to practice their independence and providing some structure can be helpful.
  • Ask organizations what they need. This may seem like an obvious step, but this step is often overlooked. Sometimes, individuals make assumptions about community or organizational needs based on their passion, interests or a single story shared by the media. Avoid wasted energy and resources by stopping to ask how to help.
  • Support a cause that youth are already passionate about. Youth that raise or show animals may be inclined to support local animal shelters, farm service groups or connect with local Farm Bureau efforts.
  • Contribute cash donations that can be applied to the area of greatest need by reputable service organizations. This is often the most effective way to help. 4-H clubs can consider this option by holding fundraisers specifically for the service project (make sure to abide by all policies outlined in the 4-H Financial Manuals).
  • Check in with local service organizations, faith communities, government services and local food banks. Organizations who are already working in an area will know about needs, gaps and opportunities. If you’re not sure where to start, 211 serves as a hotline for resources in many communities. Youth can build important life skills by making the phone calls to the agencies themselves.
  • Find more resources on the Michigan 4-H Community Service and Service Learning

To help with mid-Michigan flooding relief during the COVID-19 pandemic, here are some local resources:

It is important to follow all guidelines regarding safe distancing practices! It is not always necessary to be helping in person to be helpful; as noted above, raising money is often the most effective method of support.

Helping 4-H members incorporate generosity into their projects will help them learn more about the world around them, connect them with their community in a meaningful way and may even affect their career choices.

Michigan State University Extension and the Michigan 4-H Youth Development program helps to prepare youth as positive and engaged leaders and global citizens by providing educational experiences and resources for youth interested in developing knowledge and skills in these areas.


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