High profile leadership opportunities for youth
The role of statewide 4-H youth councils.
According to Michigan State University Extension, youth development organizations are most effective when programs are designed with youth needs and interests at the forefront. Youth-serving organizations are granted more flexibility in program planning than state-mandated schools and programs. Michigan 4-H Youth Development puts an emphasis on youth voice in program planning through these two 4-H Guiding Principles:
- Youth are actively engaged in their own development.
- Youth are considered participants rather than recipients in the learning process.
Michigan 4-H Youth Development programs employ youth in program planning at the local level through county 4-H advisory groups, and at the state level through 4-H programming committees. 4-H Capitol Experience utilizes a youth steering committee to plan and facilitate an intensive four-day learning experience. Programs designed with youth for youth are more focused on youth interests and needs than programs designed entirely by adults.
Across the U.S., 36 state 4-H programs employ youth voice in statewide program planning and leadership roles in the form of state youth councils, ambassadors, or state officers. While the purpose of these programs vary, most involve an application process, on-going training, and youth leadership events designed for youth to build their leadership skills while representing and improving statewide 4-H programs.
4-H programs at a statewide level are often complex and provide innumerable programs and opportunities for youth. The Missouri 4-H Youth Council engages youth in a variety of ways to support their statewide programming. The job description reads, “You will be asked to provide a youth perspective and weigh in on a variety of issues that arise throughout the year. As the voice of Missouri 4-H youth, you may be asked to advise on policy issues or be part of a briefing with state decision-makers.”
In addition to providing valuable planning and program insight, youth council members learn important skills. The Wisconsin 4-H Youth Council highlights the following opportunities for leadership skill development:
- Gain leadership on a state-wide level
- Enhance your leadership and public speaking skills
- Become more confident in your leadership abilities
- Meet other youth leaders from across the state
- Have fun (and make a difference while doing so)!
Involving youth as partners in program planning and decision-making can certainly be a time-consuming process, but the potential benefits for youth, adults and organizations far outweigh the challenges.