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Finding success through failure

By Nicole Kudrle

Two ambassadors presenting outdoors
Each year I have the opportunity to work with some amazing teen leaders through the Minnesota 4-H county ambassador program. Ambassadors use their skills in leadership, communication and teamwork to create opportunities to make meaningful contributions to their communities and act as role models for younger 4-H youth. 

Three years ago, I had 24 youth participate in the north St. Louis County 4-H county ambassador program. Each year the ambassadors have sponsored a Project Fun Day to promote 4-H in the county.  In 2019, the group decided to organize a new event called 4-H Winter Outdoor Survival Skills. In February of 2019, the group planned and promoted their event. The ambassadors worked closely with adult volunteers who provided knowledge and leadership to the sessions as the ambassadors recognized they were not content experts in the topics they planned to offer. The group planned sessions on shelter building, ice fishing, snaring and trapping, and staying warm in a survival situation. After weeks of promotion, only six youth signed up for the program. The ambassadors were faced with a dilemma; after lots of conversation the group decided to cancel the event due to low enrollment numbers. 

At the next ambassador meeting, I intentionally designed a structured opportunity to lead the teens through a reflection process regarding their planning and promotion efforts for this event. Through this process the group identified the following challenges:
  • During the planning process there were two youth who dominated the conversation. Many in the group had reservations about the day, but they didn’t want to speak up and share their concerns. 
  • The topic for the event was very specific and narrowly focused, unlike the broad variety of topics usually offered during Project Fun Day events; the group realized that a limited number of youth are interested in learning survival skills. 
  • Ambassadors were not leading the session. Instead, they were relying on adults to be the content experts, giving up a role that they enjoyed and sparked their passions. 

After the group acknowledged the challenges of the program, they were re-energized and began planning a new version called 4-H Outdoor Skills Day.  The ambassadors designed an event with a variety of winter activities that they could provide, hoping to appeal to a broader audience and share their skills and interests with their younger peers. In March of 2020, 35 youth participated in the north St. Louis County 4-H Outdoor Skills Day. Youth had the opportunity to learn from their ambassadors about navigation, how snow forms, and participate in a nature scavenger hunt. The event was so successful the group continues to host it annually. 

As I continue to work with this great group of teen leaders, I use the Weikart Center for Youth Program Quality Pyramid, a research based approach for youth development professionals, to ensure the ambassadors are developing high quality programs in our county and honor true youth and adult partnerships providing authentic opportunities for youth voice, choice and leadership. I will also continue to challenge the ambassadors to thrive and find their spark and help younger youth as well!

How are you leading for success? Do you ever stop to examine the failures? What will you do next time your group experiences a challenge or set back? How will you turn this into a success by capitalizing on the learning opportunity?

-- Nicole Kudrle, Extension educator

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