What makes 4-H different from other youth organizations?

There are many organizations serving youth across the United States. What makes 4-H Youth Development different?

A group of students standing together posing for a picture
Participants during 4-H Capitol Experience. Photo by MSU Extension.

There are many organizations that work with the young people of our communities. The purpose of these organizations is to build assets in the children of our community. A multitude of organizations provide services and education for youth. Outside of the school system, 4-H is one of the few youth programs that are mostly supported directly by tax dollars. Why is that the case? What makes 4-H different from these other organizations?

  • Guiding principles. Michigan 4-H Youth Development programs are based on the Michigan 4-H Guiding Principles. Some organizations incorporate some of those ideas, but none incorporate all of them.
  • Research based. We know that 4-H works! Positive youth development improves the lives of young people. Tufts University has conducted some long-term studies on the effect of 4-H. Young people who are members of 4-H clubs are more likely to engage in positive activities, go to college and be civically engaged in their communities. They are less likely to be involved in negative behaviors such as drug and alcohol use, risky sexual behaviors or bullying. Many of our programs have evaluations to show that participants not only increase their knowledge, but change behaviors.
  • Open to everyone. 4-H clubs offer a setting where young people from 5- to 19-years-old work in the same group. Both males and females work together. More experienced members can share their knowledge with newer members. 4-H welcomes members of all faiths along with those who aren’t part of a religious community. This diversity gives our participants experience in connecting with people from all backgrounds as they enter the workforce.
  • Youth driven. Most youth serving organizations are set up by adults who tell the young people what they need to do. Whether it is specific requirements to earn a badge or a coach telling a young person what to do in practice, 4-H isn’t designed to be that way. 4-H programs are designed so youth are actively engaged in their own development. Youth decide what activities they want to engage in, what they want to learn more about and what projects they want to conduct in their community.

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.

To learn about the positive impact of Michigan 4-H youth leadership, citizenship and service and global and cultural education programs, read our Impact Report: “Developing Civically Engaged Leaders.” Additional impact reports, highlighting even more ways MSU Extension and Michigan 4-H have positively impacted individuals and communities can be downloaded from the MSU Extension website.


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