Benefits of involving youth on decision-making boards and committees

Washtenaw County 4-H programs provide insight on the benefits youth reap when serving on community decision-making bodies.

Michigan 4-H programs strongly believe in empowering youth to make decisions with their peers regarding matters that affect them.  One of the Michigan 4-H Youth Development Guiding Principles states, “Youth are considered participants rather than recipients in the learning process,” and suggests that, “Opportunities for shared decision-making, planning and program implementation are provided for youth.”  Youth in 4-H clubs and groups can participate in decision-making and gain many benefits by serving in a leadership role as a club officer, serving on a committee, or participating in a county-wide decision-making body. First, they can develop life skills in areas of leadership, planning and teamwork.  They can increase their self confidence and sense of belonging.  Youth that participate in community decision making organizations may increase their commitment to and pride in their community and increase their level of civic awareness.  Finally, youth may develop stronger relationships with and increase their respect for adults, while in return gaining respect and validation from adults (4-H Volunteer Information Series, Nebraska 4-H Youth Development).

The Washtenaw County 4-H program recently changed the structure of a county-wide programming committee in order to better involve youth in the decision-making processes.  Since the fall of 2010, youth have been responsible for convening and leading 4-H Horse Association meetings.  Seven elected youth members compose the board and are supported by seven elected adult advisors. Only youth may vote at meetings, but all may express their opinions.  The youth president at times must balance passionate adult volunteer input with input from their peers.  A survey was conducted of the youth who served as board members in 2010 and 2011, resulting in the following outcomes: 

  • 100% (n=6) of youth serving on the 4-H horse board indicated as a result of their experience on the youth board, they can run a meeting.
  • 83% (n=6) of youth serving on the 4-H horse board indicated as a result of their experience on the youth board that they now know how to set goals and use them when they are leading a group.
  • 100% (n=6) of youth serving on the 4-H horse board indicated as a result of their experience on the youth board that they now understand other ideas may be just as important as their own.
  • 100% (n=6) of youth serving on the 4-H horse board indicated as a result of their experience on the youth board that they are sensitive to the feelings of others when discussing and solving problems.

Staff and volunteers involved in the county 4-H program have been impressed by the leadership skills of the youth. 

“What some once said was impossible, is now very much reality,” said Jackie Martin, Washtenaw County 4-H educator, regarding the ability of youth running and making decisions at county-wide 4-H programming committee meetings. “Seeing youth take ownership of their experiences has been wonderful.  Attendance at Horse Association meetings is up dramatically and the energy related to county-wide youth horse programming is contagious.”

The benefits earned in Washtenaw County 4-H program can be duplicated in other 4-H programs, as well as community organizations by involving the input and energy today’s youth brings to the table.

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