How to involve youth on a board or committee

How can a group that is not ready to fully embrace the youth-driven model still encourage youth to be actively engaged in their own development?

Anyone who has been to a Michigan State University Extension leadership and civic engagement workshop, class or program in the past few years has probably heard the buzz phrase “Youth/Adult Partnerships.” This phrase is used a lot when discussion is around 4-H boards, councils and committees. The basic operations in which 4-H staff, leaders, members and parents program around are called the 4-H Guiding Principles. These seven principles guide the work of 4-H in Michigan. One of the principles is “Youth are actively engaged in their own development.” History has shown that 4-H boards, councils and committees have been comprised of caring adults that give their time and talents to help guide the needs of their local program. While the 4-H program values and needs these caring adults, the concept of youth and adult partnerships strengthens the youth’s involvement by allowing them to be the driving force behind these groups.

In some cases, 4-H committees have turned over the leadership to the youth and placed adults in an advisory or mentor role. These groups really have embraced the youth/adult partnership model and deserve to be commended. However, in other cases there is a long line of history, deep rooted genealogy and tradition in the program. Adults really enjoy serving in the roles they play on the committees and love putting in the time and commitment to youth development. How can a group that is not ready to fully embrace the youth-driven model still encourage youth to be actively engaged in their own development?

The first step is to be sure youth serve on the committees as full voting members with all the rights of the adult members. Youth bring a fresh new perspective to issues and often are able to see the forest through the trees or the big picture, even when emotionally attached to the issue at hand. Best practice of serving youth is to work with youth to find out the issues that are in need of servicing. In order to clearly understand the issues and concerns facing today’s young people, we need to involve them in that discussion. Working side by side with youth allows the group to do just that as well as to build upon the youth’s leadership skills both through the “learn by doing” and the adult role model process.

Youth can learn skills such as building character, responsibility, teamwork and many more through projects they participate in through 4-H, but imagine how much stronger those skills will be when they are in the role of decision maker. “Youth develop positive relationships with adults and peers” and “Youth develop skills that help them succeed” are two more guiding principles that are ensured when utilizing the youth/adult partnership process.

When youth are have a seat at the table, it is important they are well represented. Having one or two youth represent the whole is not how the youth/adult partnerships model works. A partnership suggests at a minimum that both parties have equal input and decision making ability. If a group has nine adult members, then they should also have nine youth members.

Once the group has worked through step one of getting youth involved, they will eventually be ready for another step. Additional steps can be found in “Placing youth in leadership roles on boards and committees.” This article can help groups get youth further involved through officer roles in partnership with adults. 

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