Leadership and confidence gained through 4-H

A 4-H volunteer talks about building confidence and leadership skill-building in youth.

4-H projects are just crafts, livestock and numerous other options to learn about a specific skill area, right? Absolutely true. But 4-H projects are so much more when you take time for a second look.

4-H project areas teach young people skills in specific project areas that may become a lifelong pastime or career. An example is cake decorating, which can be just a past time or become a career to help young people earn their way through college, or even as a highly sought after maker of wedding cakes and assorted treats.

It is easy to see the connection between 4-H and the development of project specific skills; however, on further examination, young people gain other skills through their 4-H participation. 4-H projects build life skills in young people such as leadership and confidence. One story that exemplifies this connection took place at an annual Michigan State University Extension 4-H workshop, the 4-H Visual Arts, Crafts, Sewing and Textiles Workshop. On first look, youth and adults were enjoying the sessions learning to make assorted projects including quilts, wall weavings and jewelry. When digging deeper, one 4-H volunteer, Lori Faulkner, found much more impactful life lessons developing. Here is her experience in her own words from her sessions during the workshop:

 “I was an adult instructor at the [4-H] Visual Arts/Clothing & Textiles Weekend held at the Kettunen Center teaching Project Runway and Fashion Illustration with my 16-year-old daughter. I have taught youth in clothing and textiles classes at (Michigan 4-H) Exploration Days for the past 19 years and taught at the Kettunen Center for approximately six years. Watching students create original garments from newspapers, plastic and paper bags and duct tape is remarkable on its own. I see the fear in their eyes when I say there is not a set of instructions to follow or a kit as is given in many classes. This truly is a work of art that requires them to use their minds, eyes and hands. It is remarkable to see them pick up the pieces and make decisions in creating their unique garment. My daughter and I help when asked and make suggestions when they seem stuck, but otherwise it is their own creation.

“Fast forward to the last part of the class when you see these same participants react to our request to model their creations in front of a group for a runway show. There is usually one or two that are ‘game,’ but most react with the ‘I’m not doing that’ reaction. We show them how to turn, how to hold your head and walk with a confident stride – though you may feel totally self-conscious. We get them to do it during the class, but they are very hesitant to model in front of others. My daughter requests to work with them on their own and when I return after about 15 minutes, she has them enjoying their garments and showing them off. She has successfully boosted their confidence levels while simultaneously boosting her own.

“The real test is the next day when they will have to beef up their self-confidence and model in front of a room full of 150 people. My daughter and I talk about who will and probably won’t show up as modeling was well out of their confidence zone. At 11:45 a.m., the participants arrive one by one, until they are all there and getting dressed in their recyclable creations. I announce the class and the workshop name and my daughter proudly leads them into the packed room and they model for the whole group – every participant. What a wonderful feeling it is to not only have participated in helping others to find their creativity, but abundantly more important to have helped their self-confidence.”

This not an isolated experience in 4-H. Working through and with volunteer adults in project areas, youth learn to be confident leaders. Take a second look at 4-H and the skills developed in youth as a result of their participation. 4-H provides the opportunity for youth to gain confidence and leadership skills and then practice those skills as a part of their 4-H project work and other 4-H events.

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