2016 Capitol Experience: Youth leaders on the front line of public policy

How Michigan 4-H is investing in youth as leaders in their communities and state.

These youth leaders and 4-H staff member from Lake County got to interact with their elected official, State Representative Jon Bumstead, at the 4-H Capitol Experience Legislative Breakfast.

These youth leaders and 4-H staff member from Lake County got to interact with their elected official, State Representative Jon Bumstead, at the 4-H Capitol Experience Legislative Breakfast.

4-H Capitol Experience has been occurring annually for over 30 years. In 2016, the program was honored with Michigan State University Extension‘s highest programming honor, the John Hannah Award for Programming Excellence. Every year is a success at Capitol Experience, but this year seemed especially poignant. This year was our second year with Michigan Farm Bureau as funding partners for the program. This partnership has allowed 4-H youth leadership and civic engagement educators to build in an additional component to 4-H Capitol Experience’s plan.

At 4-H Capitol Experience, we aim to help youth recognize the power of their voices in their communities and in public policy. We tout the importance of “for youth, by youth” programming, where youth are active decision makers in the programming planning process. After all, this is a program for youth – we think it’s important for the participants in a program to have a say in their programming. Since the partnership with Michigan Farm Bureau, we’ve been able to provide the youth and adult volunteers on our steering committee with an additional facilitator’s training. The role of this training is to empower the youth committee members with skills and tools to be the leaders of issue groups during the event. These issue groups function similarly to state committees, and create a space for program participants to delve deeply into one specific topic of concern for the state of Michigan, work in small groups and interact with individual stakeholders who have a vested interest in that topic (agencies, legislative aides, lobbyists, etc.).

Over the past two years, 4-H Capitol Experience’s adult educators have watched youth facilitators take the lead in brainstorming ideas, finding consensus, developing common ground amongst diverse participants and solving conflicts. These youth facilitators function at such a high level of leadership after attending the training that many of the adult facilitators feel little need to regularly contribute. These youth leaders are considered a huge success by the 4-H Capitol Experience team.

An additional success we’ve had in the past couple of years is a completely full program. Thanks to historic success as an engaging program, and new scholarships offered on a county level by many Michigan Farm Bureau offices, 4-H Capitol Experience has met its maximum capacity! In order to accommodate demand and make the 4-H Capitol Experience available to more youth, the 2017 program will be held in a Greater Lansing space that allows for greater numbers of participation. In 2016, we had 113 youth participants with 18 adult youth development experts. In total, these participants represented 42 counties throughout Michigan. We want to continue providing this experiential learning opportunity to as many Michigan high school youth as possible and are looking forward to next year.

Youth participant Wyatt Demerly of Shiawassee County shared some of his thoughts about 4-H Capitol Experience with Michigan Farm Bureau, “This is very educational. Its fun, it’s not sitting in a classroom being boring. We’re out; we’re walking around. We’re meeting new people.” To see Demerly’s full interview and here what his elected official had to say about 4-H, check out this Michigan Farm Bureau video on 2016 4-H Capitol Experience.

For more information on 4-H Capitol Experience, visit the 4-H Capitol Experience website. Additional information on MSU Extension youth leadership and civic engagement programs are also available at MSU Extension’s Leadership, Citizenship and Service website. To see the kind of impact these types of programs have on youth, we highly encourage you to look at MSU Extension’s “Developing Civically Engaged Leaders.”

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