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Helping youth find hopeful purpose

By Sarah Odendahl I sometimes find myself talking with other parents about the desire to help our children thrive as they grow - but what does thriving really mean? How do we define it? The  4-H Thriving Model describes youth thriving as "social, emotional, and cognitive learning." It also describes seven indicators of thriving, including "hopeful purpose." The model describes a hopeful purpose this way: "Thriving youth have a sense of hope and purpose, and see themselves on the way to a happy and successful future." How common is it for young people to feel this way?  We know that the  American Academy of Pediatrics declared a youth mental health crisis in 2021 , and that Gen Z experiences higher rates of anxiety about extreme weather and climate change and  perceive more dangers in life than previous generations . Two surveys from the end of 2023 asked youth about hope and purpose more directly. Gallup and the Walton Family Foundation report only 64-6
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It’s okay, not to be okay - May is Mental Health Awareness Month

By Amy Sparks        In 2023, Minnesota State Fair 4-H Building visitors        were asked to share the needs in the world they care        most  about and place them on a Universe of Service.        Many fair-goers identified mental health care as        a need.  Photo by Amy Sparks. "How is everyone?" A simple question, yet it holds profound power in igniting discussions about mental well-being. Earlier this year, Elmo from Sesame Street posed this question on social media , triggering an outpouring of responses. From tales of relationship strains to battles with financial difficulties, fatigue, isolation, and disconnection, individuals shared their innermost feelings. Elmo's post garnered millions of views, reposts, likes, and comments, underscoring a reality we cannot overlook: many among us are grappling with challenges. And that's alright. What's crucial is acknowledging this reality and ensuring everyone knows assistance is within reach. May isn't just

To create a volunteer-led youth program, focus on equity

By Jessica Pierson Russo Volunteerism in the United States has been declining for decades, but it dropped even further (7%) between 2019 and 2021. People volunteer for any number of reasons—to give back, to socialize, perhaps to learn a new skill in a fun way. A great way to scare people away from volunteering is to make it complicated or unwelcoming. One way to ensure a barrier-free opportunity to youth programs is to focus on equity, because this makes sure that everyone receives the unique resources and opportunities they need to participate in a meaningful way.  An equitable approach is first a welcoming one. When we’re asking people to volunteer their time to lead a youth program, we can be most welcoming to them by focusing on building the relationship and keeping it simple. By "relationship," I mean both our relationship with the volunteer , and their relationship with the program. We can think of creating a volunteer-led youth program through five steps. Step 1: Gath

Reed Larson’s research on youth development

By Kate Walker I recently attended the annual meeting for the Society for Research on Adolescence where my mentor Reed Larson was invited to reflect on his influential research career in youth development. Reed first got interested in adolescence because he saw it as a critical period of awakening. Yet he noticed that most research focused on problems more than development, and he discovered that youth programs were powerful spaces for this awakening and development to occur. These insights propelled an impressive body of research that has tremendous implications for our work with and on behalf of young people.  Young people’s daily experiences and emotions With his mentor Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi , Reed began by studying adolescents’ daily experiences and emotions, pioneering the Experience Sampling Method (ESM) where young people were prompted (with beepers back then!) to report on their feelings and the dynamics of their experiences in different domains in their daily lives. He exp

The value of art in youth programming

By Allison Hansen When you think of "art," what comes to mind? Maybe it's the timeless beauty of classical paintings and sculptures, or the profound messages conveyed through art installations like the statue, Dignity: of Earth and Sky . Or perhaps you envision the playful creativity showcased in youth exhibitions. The reality is, art encompasses all these aspects—beauty, power, playfulness—and much more. Art includes drawing, painting, sculpture, creative writing, dance, music, theater, fashion, makeup, interior design, and numerous other disciplines. The National Core Arts Standards assert that engaging with the arts doesn't just develop artistic skills; it fosters collaboration, critical thinking, social competence, brain development, creative problem-solving, innovation, emotional regulation, creativity, and curiosity—qualities often categorized as "21st century skills," "social emotional skills," or "soft skills." Ultimately, arts i

Challenges and success in engaging youth virtually

By Nicole Kudrle During the Covid-19 pandemic, program staff were challenged to develop innovative programming that would not be just a temporary solution, but an alternative method of engaging youth. The Northeast 4-H Cloverbud Project Days is an example of a unique learning opportunity that I co-developed to engage and build connections with youth in grades K-2 during the pandemic. This program has evolved over the last four years to become a permanent opportunity to engage this young audience.  A project day is an opportunity for youth to explore their passions through completing hands-on learning experiences. When working with youth in kindergarten through 2nd grade it is important to engage them with activities that are developmentally appropriate. You want to ensure that the program you are offering is specifically designed for them, creates a safe and welcoming environment that allows youth in K-2 to learn leadership skills, public speaking skills, and build friendships.  The m

Showing appreciation builds a positive environment

By Karyn Santl "I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."  - Maya Angelou I work in a youth serving organization where we use volunteers to achieve our mission of delivering high-quality, culturally responsive, experiential learning opportunities for youth. We have over 7,500 volunteers placed in formal roles and just as many in informal roles. We consider volunteers to be part of our workforce or team. April is Global Volunteer Month , and within the month of April is National Volunteer Week . These designations give us the opportunity to recognize the impact volunteer service has on our youth programs and the communities we serve. Ensuring volunteers are recognized and shown appreciation is one of the components of a successful volunteer delivery system. A resource that I have used to build my skills in this area is the book  The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace