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K-State Research and Extension
123 Umberger Hall
Manhattan, KS 66506-3401

September 19, 2017

On 4-H and Youth Development

Submitted by Gregg Hadley

Sunday, the 2017 Kansas State Fair ended. It was a time for families to come together, youth and adults to submit and display their various projects, merchants to showcase their products, and entertainers to showcase their talent. It was a time of fun and of learning. It also marks a good opportunity to address a question regarding my perspectives of 4-H and its role in youth development.

As a ten year 4-H member way back when, it is very hard for me to determine how my 4-H experience did not affect my life. It was that influential to me. Nevertheless, as an Extension professional, we often have to take the blinders off in order to make the best truly better.

If we apply Sinek’s “Why-How-What” format to 4-H and youth development, the “Why” refers to the positive youth development outcomes we are trying to achieve. The “How” refers to the 4-H program itself, albeit it is not the only way to emphasize positive youth development in Extension. The “What” refers to the myriad of fun and educational 4-H projects in which our youth can participate. Like Sinek’s warning, if we concentrate on the “Why” – as the vast majority of the participating families, Extension professionals and volunteers do – all goes swimmingly and positive youth development outcomes occur. If we concentrate on the “What,” sometimes problems occur, problems like cheating or those associated with someone uttering “It isn’t about the ribbon” right before uttering something that resembles “It is about the ribbon.”

What is the “Why” of 4-H? I realize this will vary from person to person. I believe the main “Why” that underlies 4-H is it allows youth to see opportunity in this world and to learn skills needed to seize that opportunity in a confident and competent manner. Those opportunities may vary from being professional, civic, social and/or lifelong hobby/interest oriented. Regardless, they are extremely important opportunities that enhances the lives of our 4-H participants and those they serve as they mature to become responsible adults.

Two examples of the professional opportunity sort were displayed last week as two of our 4-H ambassadors were giving our Lt. Governor a tour of the 4-H projects in Centennial Hall. He seemed amazed by how 4-H had impacted the lives of these two ambassadors. One explained how the Kansas 4-H Wheat Expo had opened her eyes to a career in bakery sciences and her intentions to major in that subject next year. The other explained how his 4-H projects led him to already start aquaponics and beekeeping businesses. It reminded me of how 4-H enabled me to see the opportunity of a career in animal agriculture – even though I never grew up on a “real farm.”

Of course, there are hundreds of stories just like these, and we need to make sure we remember, promote, and talk about them. They are part of the “Why” underlying 4-H, and, if we concentrate on the “Why,” good things happen!