4-H YOUTH ARE LEADERS NOW
AM: What is 4-H and why is it relevant to youth?
DTF: 4-H really is a community of young people across America learning leadership, citizenship and life skills. 4-Hers are from all walks of life and all cultural and racial groups. They are in every segment of our society - every city, suburb and in towns where there are houses beyond the postal routes.
I think the word "community" is important when you talk about 4-H. I hear all the time about how many young people make lasting friendships through 4-H. Many of them even met their husband or wife in 4-H. We have reunions of alumni who now have their own kids in 4-H. It's a community of young people that work together and help each other.
Young people who belong to 4-H want to be leaders. They want to learn a lot of skills that they'll need to be a successful person today and tomorrow. They want to be proud of their country, and they want to participate in the future of this great organization.
4-H produces a different set of citizenship skills - members really get involved. We know from research that young people in 4-H are far more involved in their communities than young people involved with other youth organizations.
I've heard repeatedly from people that they learned how to stand and speak on their feet in 4-H. Public speaking is a skill young people need for life - it culls out leadership and produces a different kind of leader. For example, 55 members of the U.S. Congress were in 4-H, including Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, who will tell you that he learned his leadership skills from 4-H.
AM: How has 4-H evolved in the past decade? Where do you see 4-H going in the next 10 years?
DTF: In the past decade, 4-H began focusing on how young people are involved not only in our organization but also in communities. While this focus is not new for 4-H, some of the approaches we used are.
Today we have young people involved in virtually all aspects of 4-H programmatic design. Ten years ago, we didn't have that many young people involved. Today, we have 10 young people on the National 4-H Council Board of Trustees.
4-H also has evolved in terms of the actual projects that young people enjoy. They are much more technologically savvy projects. For example, if a young person is involved in agricultural programming in 4-H, he or she will be using global positioning and information systems technology just as farmers are using.
In addition, 4-H programming is much more diverse than it was 10 years ago. We reach many more kids who look different, are different, and actually mirror the population of the United States.
Down the road, I think you'll continue to see 4-H focusing more on what we know from research are the best practices in youth development. We will be much more focused to a higher standard of curriculum design and a higher standard of program delivery. 4-H staff and volunteers will be even better trained. And the organization will be even more focused around healthy lifestyles, after-school time and science and technology. 4-H will have an increasing focus to our work, and we clearly will be perceived as a more relevant, diverse organization.
AM: How is 4-H marketing the organization to today's traditional agriculture and rural lifestyle segments?
DTF: It's important to note that 50 percent of all young people in rural America are in 4-H. No other youth development organization has that kind of reach.
I think the 4-H organization was schizophrenic for a while. We started moving into urban areas in the 1970s. We were very proud that we were reaching new audiences, but we did not quite know how to talk about our rural heritage, our agricultural roots and our agricultural programming in this kind of urban environment. We didn't know how to talk about it, and so we didn't. We started talking more about 4-H in the cities.
Yet, 4-H never left rural America. Our roots are there, and our programs in rural areas, small towns and suburbs are significant. We openly embrace our heritage.
AM: What are 4-H's four main initiatives?
DTF: 4-H is focusing on four areas we think are really relevant today. One is how young people are involved in their communities. We know from research that young people don't develop in isolation; they develop in the context of their communities, which means they must be involved in practical ways.
So 4-H, through the governance process, instills in young people a passion for democracy, not just the process of politics. Young people are becoming involved in fundamental policy discussions about how they can be a part of decision making and governing in their communities through programs such as Youth Involvement in Civic Governance and Decision-Making, which is funded by Land O' Lakes Inc.
4-H also is working on a curriculum, "Power of YOUth in Philanthropic Fundraising," that helps young people build their fundraising skills so they can implement initiatives that are important to them. We appreciate Pioneer Hi-Bred International Inc.'s support of this effort.
Second is the issue of afterschool programs. We know that 15 million kids are at risk because they don't have a place to go between the hours of 3 to 8 p.m. 4-H is a pioneer in providing activities for young people during out-of-school time. In fact, we've named all of 4-H's curriculum, training and programs in the afterschool arena 4-H Afterschool, so they are readily recognizable to youth development professionals who need help with afterschool programs. JCPenney Afterschool Fund is the national presenting sponsor of 4-H Afterschool, and longtime 4-H supporter John Deere also contributes to the initiative.
The third is the issue of healthy lifestyles. Nutrition, exercise and healthy choice programming have always been a part of 4-H. In fact, more than 2.4 million young people are involved in healthy lifestyle programming. National 4-H Council administers 4-H's Healthy Lifestyles Grants Program, which is one way the organization gets youth and adults to work together to create fun, original programs that reverse rising obesity rates among youth. The program has expanded in 2004 through the generosity of Kraft Foods and Cargill.
The final area is science and technology. 4-H is the largest non-formal education supplement in America's schools, and most of our programming has a science or technology base. Science and technology go back to our beginnings more than 100 years ago when young people were using the latest seed technology from a state land-grant university and were yielding more bushels of corn per acre than their farmer parents.
4-H has made youth in governance, healthy lifestyles, afterschool programs and science and technology our main initiatives. We want to provide focus, synergy and resources to really serve more young people through these programs.
AM: How can the agribusiness community become more involved in 4-H's future?
DTF: There are a couple of ways the agribusiness community can support 4-H and its initiatives. One is to embrace 4-H because many of agribusiness' employees have children that are in the organization. That means providing dollars to the high quality programming that 4-H has and making sure that employees are free to volunteer their time to 4-H. We have 600,000 volunteers, but 4-H still has waiting lists of youth who really want to get involved but can't because there aren't enough trained volunteers in their areas.
Many in the agribusiness community already support 4-H, but there is certainly room for more. In many ways, agribusiness developed 4-H over the past 100 years, and that's certainly true today with wide participation in program design and the knowledge of volunteers. AM