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Thursday, April 19, 2018

4-H grows a commitment to community service

Meet Gigi.

In 4-H, Gigi has been discovering her power to serve.

As a 12-year member of Hayward 4-H Club, Gigi can hardly remember a time without 4-H. She’s followed her older siblings in showing various livestock but also branched out, exploring a range of projects including photography, gardening, food and nutrition and fine arts and crafts. 4-H gives her the opportunity to work hard toward a goal and expand her creative skills.

Gigi with her older brother Foster
Ask Gigi and she’ll tell you that the most important skills she's grown in 4-H are connected to leadership and community service. Holding club officer positions have helped her practice patience, organization, collaboration and perseverance. She is currently her club’s community pride officer. The role's main responsibility is to identify and coordinate experiences for youth to contribute to their local community.

Recent activities shes planned include a citywide garbage clean-up day, skit performances at the local nursing home and food packing at a nearby food shelf. "Growing up to be an older member of the club is fun," reflected Gigi about her leadership role in 4-H. "You get to show the other kids in the club all the opportunities to be a part of."

4-H empowers youth with the skills they need to lead. Gigi is doing just that, discovering along the way that she doesn’t have to wait for permission to help her community. "It’s a matter of taking things into your own hands, not waiting for your parents to tell you."

Growing leadership skills in 4-H has set Gigi up for a lifetime of service. "There are always people out there who need your help, you just have to ask."
Gigi (in blue) volunteering with fellow club members

Visit our website to discover ways to get involved in your community.

By Madison Muir
University of Minnesota student
Kittson County 4-H alum

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Teaching leadership is Karyn Santl’s passion

Extension educator
Karyn Santl
For a non-camper, Karyn Santl sure has made a big impact on 4-H camps. For the past 20 years, she has been working with camp counselor training at 4-H camps across Minnesota.

Camp counselor training has far-reaching effects. The teenagers who take the training learn leadership skills they'll use throughout their lives. "They're learning how to work with others, how to lead – lead a song, lead a game, teach content, deal with behaviors, group dynamics," Karyn said. "Things don’t always go as planned, so they learn how to think on the spot and deal with adversity, even when they haven’t had much sleep."

And it's not only the teenage counselors who benefit. Good quality training for counselors also affects the many younger youth who come to 4-H camps. Last year, nearly 4,000 Minnesota youth participated in 4-H camps. "It’s always exciting when I hear from alumni about how much they related to their camp counselors," Karyn said. "They’re role models and campers look up to them."

Monday, April 9, 2018

When youth partner with adults, they become better leaders

Minnesota 4-H Photography
project development committee

Monthly column from Minnesota 4-H director Dorothy McCargo Freeman

The young man at the far right of this photo is named Evan. He’s a 4-H’er from Hubbard County. For the past year, Evan has served on a team focused on enhancing youth learning in our 4-H photography project.

He is one of four youth on this 4-H Photography Project Development Committee. His commitment to centering the values and interests of young people inspires me.

"4-H has taught me that youth voice is really important," said Evan. "I'm glad I get to influence 4-H photography at the state level. It’s great to be part of something so big."

Growing leadership skills through leading

Our goal in 4-H is to empower youth with the skills they need to lead for a lifetime. An important way we build those skills in young people is by letting them lead.

When young people experience personal power, the ability to influence their own lives and situations around them, there are many benefits:
  • Higher achievement and engagement in learning
  • Increased problem-solving and coping skills
  • Fewer problem behaviors like smoking and other types of substance abuse
When young people are able to expand and use their personal power, they discover their competence to lead.

The ideal environment for growth

Now growing leaders isn’t about saying "off you go, young person" and leaving them to fend for themselves. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Adults must work closely with youth to ensure they form the best leadership skills.

In 4-H, we're committed to youth-adult partnerships, where adults and young people are equal players in solving community problems. They share power, make contributions that are valued equally and collaborate in decision-making.

Yes, it can be frustrating and uncomfortable, but the potential outcome in our youth is worth our effort. At our core, we are about growing true leaders. And what better way to go about that work than empowering youth from the very beginning?

Do you want to grow competent leaders?

4-H clubs and other group experiences are the perfect place to build leadership skills in young people. Are you a volunteer who wants to grow competent leaders? Here are a few things to try:
  1. Create a safe and supportive environment –if you don’t have that, nothing else matters.
  2. Ask what the youth want and collaborate on goals –if you’re not in agreement, then you’re not ready to take action.
  3. Share decision-making power –if young people don’t have this authority, you’re not in a true partnership.
  4. Support learning from mistakes –both adults and youth have space to grow. If only young people are expected to learn, you’re missing out.
  5. Embrace your place – prepare young people for their leadership experience quietly and in the background, letting them lead in the foreground.
Whether serving at a state level like Evan, or just beginning to explore local leadership, like Mela who I wrote about a few months ago, young people of all ages can become leaders in 4-H. Caring, supportive adult partners are essential.

Together, let’s grow competent and confident leaders.


Dorothy McCargo Freeman


Norman, J. (2001) Building Effective Youth-Adult Partnerships. Advocates for Youth

Scales, P. and Leffert, N. (1999) Developmental Assets: A synthesis of the scientific research on adolescent development. Search Institute.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

4-H animal-lovers and healthy living champions

Youth enjoying a day tubing on the slopes
Screaming for joy (and an adrenaline spike) while sliding down a snow-covered hillside.

Bundled up from head to toe in snowsuits on a wintery Sunday afternoon.

This is how you can often find members of the Cass County 4-H club, Hooves, Paws, and Claws. Snow tubing is just one of the many ways they integrate healthy living activities into their time together. Nutritional snacks along with games and activities are now the norm each time this club gathers. But that hasn’t always been true.

Healthier food choices
About a year ago, 4-H volunteer Teri McAllister realized that small changes, such as healthier snack options, could make a big impact on the youth of her club. She started by adding more fruit and vegetables and skipping the chips as snack options at meetings.

“At first the youth were annoyed about the change. They thought these new snacks were unappealing,” Teri shared.

But Teri kept trying. She started offering nutrition lessons during some club meetings. Hands-on cooking opportunities helped the youth feel more excited and willing to try new foods. A few of the club members have even given demonstrations about healthy eating, sharing their learning with others.

“I can see it working,” said Teri. “A couple kids really appreciate getting fruit and fresh foods at our club because they may not get that at home.”

Having physical fun together
Integrating activities and physical games into club meetings was a popular change from the get-go. 4-H’ers were excited to burn some energy and have fun together. The club members now go skiing, skating, tubing, and ice fishing throughout the winter. They also host gym nights for the community and invite all their friends and family to participate.

Hooves, Paws, and Claws 4-H club at an outdoor activity
Teri reflected that the youth in her club probably don’t even realize they are exercising most of the time.“Our kids are just having fun. There’s a lot more you can do besides jump roping and running. We’re moving our bodies and enjoying life together.”

Although the Hooves, Paws, and Claws 4-H Club is all about animals, healthy living is now a favorite agenda item.

By Madison Muir
University of Minnesota student
Kittson County 4-H alum

Would you like ideas about adding healthy living activities into your 4-H club meetings? Check out 4th H is for Health!

Read about other ways 4-H is helping youth live healthy lives.

Friday, March 30, 2018

"What I like about 4-H is being in a supportive community. 4-H is like family."

Meet Manny.

He's is a 4-H'er from Ramsey County and a member of the Teen Power 4-H Club. He first got involved with 4-H at a local community center eight years ago. Little did he know what an important impact 4-H would have on his future.

4-H is a meaningful place for Manny. It's a place where he isn’t stressed and feels safe to learn new skills. Photography is his most recent interest and his connections with 4-H staff and volunteers are helping him explore all the ways he can use photography to communicate his ideas and observations.

4-H youth visiting the Minnesota State Fair in 2014.
Manny's in the back row, held up by his brother Xavier.
"It's supportive community," he said when asked what he liked most about 4-H. "It's like family." In fact, 4-H is family for Manny. His dad is a club volunteer and his siblings are past and current members of Teen Power too.

Last summer, Manny was on the 4-H STEM team at the Minnesota State Fair. His primary responsibility was to help the thousands of visitors to the 4-H Building discover the fun and creativity that comes with exploring engineering and technology.

Manny doesn’t always realize his own leadership skills or see the impact he has on peers. But both adults and other youth know Manny to be a strong leader who's willing to learn and grow.

"He is very articulate and precise," commented a fellow 4-H'er when asked to describe their friend. "His way of doing things we call 'the Manny way' meaning he's good at making things his and personalizing things to show who he is."

Manny and fellow 4-H STEM staffer at the 2017 Minnesota State Fair
His club leader reflected that "Manny knows when to step down, when to step up. He makes sure projects get done right and that everyone is included and feels part of the community. Manny gives kids that feeling that makes people want to stick around."

Manny is a junior at Washington High School in St. Paul and looks forward to college. He's interested in the University of Minnesota, but his dream school is the University of California Los Angeles, where he hopes to study medicine.

4-H grows confident and driven leaders.

By Lucia Davila Alvarez
Augsburg College student
Ramsey County 4-H alum

Friday, March 2, 2018

Citizenship is all about service

Monthly column from Minnesota 4-H director Dorothy McCargo Freeman

Through 4‑H citizenship programs, youth learn about civic affairs, build decision-making skills and develop a sense of understanding and confidence in relating and connecting to other people. These life skills help grow 4‑H youth into true leaders.
National 4-H Council

Five teenagers beautifying a city street with an adult volunteer
4-H club community clean up day
In 4-H, Minnesota youth have many opportunities to build citizenship skills such as confidence, respect, decision-making and integrity. At it's core, citizenship is not about where a person lives or where their family is from. It's about a deep sense of commitment and service to our community.

Citizenship starts at home

I'm the eldest of six children raised by James and Nannie McCargo. From the earliest of years, our parents expected us to contribute to our home and family. We washed dishes, cleaned house, did laundry and yard work and entertained younger siblings. These family responsibilities taught the McCargo children that we could and did make a difference. That our choices, our acts of service, impacted the people around us.

Building on those early citizenship skills

Skills introduced in the home can grow and flourish in enrichment programs like 4-H. Learning to serve others in growing levels of responsibility increases one's sense of value and ability to contribute.

It starts small. The youngest of 4-H'ers can bring treats or lead community-building games at club meetings. Youth can share project learning with others who are curious and plan community service projects too.

As youth build confidence and begin to identify the issues they care about most, greater opportunities to serve become apparent. Officer positions, committee membership and ambassador roles are safe and supportive places for youth to engage and make a difference for the people around them.

How to encourage service in young people

Research summarized by the Search Institute offers clues for how adults can encourage young people toward a life of meaningful service.

  • Be an excellent role model - Especially if you're a parent, your regular service is a strong indicator of whether your children will themselves willingly serve.
  • Invite youth to act - Youth are four times more likely to serve if you invite them, but only half of youth surveyed reported ever being asked.
  • Engage young people's energy and idealism - Youth volunteer because they want to do something about issues that matter to them. So ask what they care about and choose service opportunities accordingly.

Living out the 4-H Pledge

At its core, the 4-H Pledge is about lifelong citizenship. We grow and strengthen our head, heart, hands and health not just for our personal gain. We also develop our whole selves for our families, our clubs, our communities, our country and our world. 4-H is about growing local and global citizens. People who are skilled, competent and committed to lives of service.

When I talk with alumni about the most valuable part of their 4-H experiences, it often comes down to the pledge. We recite it as young members and practice its tenants as we grow. It's often not until years into adulthood that we see just how much the Pledge is a call to a life well lived.

I believe that without service, no matter how successful we are, it's easy to question our value. What difference do I make? Though I am professionally successful, this is not where my value lies. It is in the service I offer to my family, my faith and to 4-H. Our Pledge builds citizenship in all of us.

A life infused with service for others is a life each of us can be proud of. 



Research cited

Scales, P. and Leffert, N. (1999) Developmental Assets: A synthesis of the scientific research on adolescent development. Search Institute.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Joe Rand helps rural LGBT youth to find each other - and themselves

Joe Rand is an Extension Educator in central Minnesota. He uses a portion of his work time to improve conditions for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth living in rural areas. In urban areas, LGBT+ youth have greater access to resources and can meet each other and find programs in which they feel comfortable. In rural areas, those safe spaces are harder to find, which can affect their development and their mental well being.

How is life different for rural LGBT+ youth versus those who live in urban areas?

In rural areas there just aren't a lot of resources, even less than in urban areas. There is a lack of access to role models or safe spaces where youth can ask questions and develop relationships with other people who are like them.

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