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

June 30, 2020

Clenched Fists or Open Hands: Our Kansas 4-H Future

Submitted by Wade Weber


What does the mission of 4-H Youth Development look like in an era of such uncertainty, disruption, volatility and contentiousness? I think this is a worthwhile question to pause and consider as Kansas 4-H resumes face-to-face programming after July 4th.

While our methods are changing, our mission remains the same.

I shared last week the following in response to a question about the future of Kansas 4-H because of COVID-19 challenges:

I invite you to help lead 4-H across Kansas to:

1) Be flexible, adaptive, and resilient to ENGAGE youth, families, and volunteers
2) Authentically learn from and serve with communities, families, and youth whose perspectives, histories, and backgrounds are different than our own
3) Create a better blended learning approach of in person and distance learning opportunities (virtual or other means) along 4-H project learning pathways

As we pursue this three-fold effort to move Kansas 4-H forward, I pulled advice from past program leaders who faced challenges of their own times.

Dr. Glenn Busset, Kansas State 4-H Program Leader from 1966-1981, described it this way, “It seems to me that if we can assume the 4-H leader possesses reasonable qualities of integrity and ability, then the two essentials for success are empathy and drive.”

“Empathy is the important central ability to feel as the other person does. Drive is the energy to want to do something. There must be a delicate balance between empathy and drive. Too much empathy with too little drive will lead to little accomplishment. Conversely, too much drive with too little empathy will often bulldoze and harm others in pursuit of accomplishments in order to fulfill their own ego.

Lastly, Bussett reminds us to observe three simple principles in working with youth:
1) Love them
2) Limit them
3) Help them achieve

Love them – “Have kind regard for the ideas and feelings of each youth. They should be able to count on you to be understanding and free from prejudice. Expect that each youth will make their own unique contribution and that contribution is important.” By doing this, you affirm that youth belong.

Limit them – “In 4-H youth can help set boundaries within which the group will function. Youth may not like these boundaries and they should have the opportunity to say so and consider ways of changing them. All of us must learn to function within certain boundaries and to consider changing them if they are not right. Democracy is as much a limiting process as it is a freeing process.”

Help them achieve – Unless youth have a sense of accomplishment and achievement, feelings of inferiority can development. They will feel success from their 4-H work when they are recognized by adults for the progress they make. The development of youth is the most important outcome of the 4-H Club program.”

Lastly, Since 1905, Kansas 4-H has engaged youth to learn by doing through project work and sought to live out its civic ideals of exercising and practicing democracy.

Otis Hall served from 1914-1920 as Kansas 4-H’s first State Program Leader and author of the 4-H Pledge,

“We're not trying to make farmers out of all these youth. We don't care how many hogs or cabbages they raise; it's the youth we're interested in. We're trying to build self-reliance, good judgment and character. For many, 4-H is a stepping stone.”

For over 115 year in Kansas, 4-H has mobilized youth and adults to live out those civic ideals, expanding the circle of belonging to include those who are marginalized and overlooked so they too can “build self-reliance, good judgment and character.” 4-H has a historical record of assisting youth find their voice and choice while also building a sense of community around shared pursuits. Today as we resume face to face activities, we must work together to expand that circle of belonging even further.

4-H welcomes youth of all beliefs and backgrounds, giving them a voice to express who they are and how they make their lives and communities better.

There has been much learned and done, but there is much left to learn and accomplish. For in reality, this era is ripe for innovation, confidence building, excellence, belonging, and intentionally pursuing our 4-H Youth Development Mission!