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What draws youth to a program?

Are you trying to reach new communities with your youth programs?

Early in my career, I came to understand that what draws young people to programs is adults that take a genuine interest in them. Building a genuine, positive relationship with a young person takes time and patience. One of the most effective ways to make it happen is through youth-adult partnerships.

According to Adam Fletcher from The Freechild Project, a youth-adult partnership is an intentional relationship between young people and adults that relies on adults acknowledging and empowering the ability, perspectives, ideas, and knowledge of young people throughout the relationship.

I was part of a year-long diversity and inclusion cohort here at the University of Minnesota that produced a series of videos. Among them is an educational video that shows the benefits of youth-adult partnerships in youth programming. In it, 4-H alumni and 4-H volunteer, Terry Williams, gives his account of how his mentor, another 4-H volunteer, “helped me become who I am today.”

This phenomenon is not well studied or documented.  One of the few existing studies on the effect of youth-adult partnerships was conducted by The Innovation Center for Community and Youth Development (a division of National 4-H Council). It showed that "involving young people in decision making provides them with the essential opportunities and supports -- challenge, relevancy, voice, cause based action, skill building, adult structure, and affirmation --  that are consistently shown to help young people achieve mastery, compassion, and health.”

Another excellent resource is this one: Making it Work: Guide to Successful Youth-Adult Partnerships.

Are you ready to use this approach?  These questions developed by the Freechild Project are an inventory of your readiness to develop partnerships with young people:
  • Do I respect and value the opinions of others no matter how old they are?
  • Do I seek to involve a diverse group of people in my programs and projects?
  • What is my motivation for working with youth?
  • Do I expect one person to represent the opinions of all youth?
  • Am I willing to let go of some of my own control in order to share responsibility?
  • Why do I want to work with youth?
How will you change your practice as you strive to develop a youth-adult partnership approach?  As shared in this video, how do you understand this statement as you recruit diverse audiences, “You can quote me but you cannot speak for me”?

-- Judith Conway, Extension educator

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