Youth roles in event planning

Youth-adult partnerships in action at 4-H Capitol Experience.

Members participate in team-building activity
4-H Capitol Experience steering committee members participate in a team-building activity during their training. Photo by Jackelyn Martin, MSU Extension.

Michigan 4-H Youth Development feels strongly about the importance of incorporating youth voice in decision-making. By participating in partnership with adults on the planning committee for an event, youth can learn skills in leadership, planning, teamwork, budgeting and decision-making. Plans are now underway for the 2020 4-H Capitol Experience event, which involves nine youth and 10 adults on the steering committee. The ways in which youth are involved in the planning, promotion and execution of this event could easily be mirrored in other youth-centered events of any size.

4-H Capitol Experience has high expectations for the youth on the planning committee. First, youth are involved in monthly pre-event conference calls that begin six months ahead of the event. The Michigan State University Extension article, “Facilitating effective distance meetings with youth,” has suggestions on how to best handle these calls. During these calls, their ideas are solicited in order to make improvements to the program, schedule, speaking and to develop promotional materials. Youth are also informed about the event budget and help make decisions regarding cost and scholarships for the coming year. 

As the event nears, youth are asked to personally recruit other youth to attend the event. They hang fliers in their schools, connect with and promote the event through social media outlets, and contact teachers in their schools to explain the educational value of the event. Youth are the most important recruitment tool for the 4-H Capitol Experience event as they attract the attention of their peers better than any other method. 

Just prior to the event, youth and adult steering committee members take an entire day to plan the event logistics. Youth and adults alike sign up for roles during the event from helping at registration, introducing guest speakers or cleaning up after a meal time. Youth are given freedom to develop skits and fun ways of communicating important points to their peers, like event rules and etiquette during meetings. 

All steering committee members are trained in facilitation skills, goal setting, group dynamics and ice breakers. At the event itself, youth steering committee members serve as co-facilitators of small issue groups (eight to 12 members) alongside an adult mentor. Utilizing youth as leaders among their peers builds their confidence and often solicits more meaningful input among the members of the group than if an adult were facilitating the conversation. When visiting community agencies or state legislators, youth steering committee members direct the group to the location and introduce the group to the speaker. Youth steering committee members also assure thank-you notes and evaluations are completed at the conclusion of each visit.

4-H Capitol Experience relies on dedicated youth to take on important roles in planning a high-profile statewide event. Events of any size or purpose that are geared toward a youth audience can benefit from genuine youth input, and adult organizers can benefit by the energy and ideas youth bring to the table. Michigan State University Extension staff are available to help brainstorm ways to incorporate youth in decision making.

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