While everyone may have their own definition of what age range constitutes a “youth leader” it is important to remember that all of them are our future leaders. These youth are the ones who will be leading our country in the near future. Yes, sooner than everyone realizes! As community members, the responsibility falls on everyone to ensure these youth leaders are being provided every opportunity they deserve.
Developing youth leaders happens because of the relationships they build with adults, mentors and other youth. Just like any relationship, these are not formed overnight. It is important to remember that these take time and more importantly, effort. One of the most effective ways to begin building these relationships is by individually reaching out to a potential youth leader. The strongest role model youth have in their lives is their parents. That is why it is equally important to include parents on any communication, especially with younger youth leaders.
Youth leaders come in a variety of ages, backgrounds and personalities. While it is natural instinct to view the most extroverted and boisterous youth as the most influential leaders, that is not always the case. Why? Because not all of the other youth have that same personality. Just as with any effective team, it takes a variety of personalities and strengths to make it a success. That is why, when seeking out potential youth leaders, it is important to tap into a variety of personality styles. There is a need for youth leaders that enjoy the “behind-the-scenes” work just as much as there is for the ones who love to present the ideas. When working with youth, remember to have each stretch their comfort limit. If youth do not feel as comfortable with the planning, make sure they still get the practice. Just be sure to offer more guidance during this process.
Just as important is tapping into a variety of youth leader personalities, it is equally vital to offer a variety of leadership opportunities. Within 4-H, depending on the county, youth have a vast array of experiences awaiting them. This is important because youth are busy. Plain and simple, they have schedules as busy as an adult with a full-time job. Creating a variety of leadership roles will help to ensure each youth feels they have something that might fit them and their family.
Youth leaders are extremely effective when there is youth representation on a board. For example, a 4-H Council might have six youth members and six adult members. This allows the youth leaders to feel as though they have an equal say. 4-H Teen Leaders or a 4-H Youth Ambassador Program are both unique opportunities for the youth leaders to experience different leadership roles. Youth can plan their events, elect their own officers and serve as a representation of all 4-H members in their county. For those youth who are extremely busy, episodic leadership opportunities tend to work better. Youth can serve as Junior Superintendents during the county fair assisting the superintendents and helping with the event programming. This requires less time commitment while still allowing them an opportunity to show leadership.
In every case of working with youth leaders, organization, communication, and clear expectations are a must! Be sure to set dates as far in advance as possible. Be clear about expectations of participation. If youth leaders need to attend six meetings a year, explain that up front.
The opportunities in 4-H to grow community youth leaders are limitless. Remembering that youth and parents need to be selective on what they will be involved in, making sure it fits the needs and vision of their family. Setting out those expectations, however detailed they may be, are vital for forming that relationship of trust. Teaching youth how to schedule and plan is just as important. Do the youth leaders have a planner? Do they know how to use it? These can be simple questions adults take for granted.
Youth leaders are a cornerstone to the success of every community. There is a sense of commitment and pride to their community when youth have helped shape its future. When moving forward to help grow the youth leaders in the community, remember to take it slow and grow it effectively. Parents can evaluate what opportunities they are introducing their youth to for leadership opportunities and community members can look at what is being offered. 4-H is the nation’s largest positive youth development and youth mentoring organization, empowering six million young people in the U.S. (4-h.org). Nebraska 4-H grows communities. Nebraska 4-H grows leaders.
Nebraska 4-H is currently looking for high school students to join the Nebraska 4-H Youth Leadership Conference Ambassador Team which will be held on June 24-26, 2022 at the Nebraska State 4-H Camp in Halsey, Neb. Applications are due on Friday, Oct 15. Please contact your extension office or visit this link https://go.unl.edu/2022ylcapp.
For more information about the 4-H and Youth Development and leadership opportunities, please contact the University of Nebraska Lincoln Extension Office in your local county or visit the website at http://4h.unl.edu/.