Inclusive 4-H: What are the benefits?

Inclusive 4-H is beneficial to both youth with and without disabilities.

According to the Michigan State University indicia, 4-H is open to all and I believe that to be true. After a local 4-H volunteer attended the Michigan State University Extension 4-H Volunteer Forum and a session about differently abled 4-H, Van Buren County made it a priority to include more youth with disabilities in the local 4-H program.

All youth need opportunities to be involved in activities unique to their own talents and interests. 4-H can empower youth with disabilities with the opportunity to be involved, make friendships and gain life skills. These opportunities are important to the 4-H program and can be embraced by members with and without disabilities.

Through 4-H, all youth with disabilities are given the opportunity to develop self-confidence, self-reliance and enhance life skills. At the same time, 4-H members without disabilities begin to see that everyone, disabled or not, has strengths and weaknesses and they learn to be less biased towards others. An inclusive 4-H program encourages members without disabilities to assist those with disabilities, helping them to develop their own skills in serving others while learning to be more empathetic. As a result, both parties learn a lot about patience and perseverance.

According to the University of Wyoming, an inclusive 4-H program is one that:

  1. Recognizes that people are the same but also different.
  2. Creates chances for others to experience freedom to participate.
  3. Values each person and diversity.
  4. Supports participation.

Looking to make your 4-H program more inclusive? Michigan State University Extension has information and tips on inclusive 4-H, predominantly related to the long-time Proud Equestrians Program. Other examples of successful inclusive 4-H programs include the Northwestern Michigan 4-H Livestock Council.

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