Though Kansas 4-H members have their pick of nearly three dozen projects offered each year, there really are three key principles they’re likely to pick up.
Leadership. Communication. Civic engagement.
“I was just having a conversation with another person the other day with how thrilled it makes me to see young people who have been in the 4-H program to put up their ‘I Voted’ sticker,” said Beth Hinshaw, a Kansas 4-H youth development specialist in southeast Kansas. “Young people who are involved in their communities, taking leadership and communicating … are going to do that as adults, as well.”
Sign-up for Kansas 4-H programs is currently underway across Kansas, and Hinshaw is encouraging youth to check out what the state’s largest youth organization might offer them. In Kansas, more than 86,000 youth and their families participated in a variety of 4-H programs in 2019.
Aliah Mestrovich Seay, a youth development specialist for community vitality, notes that while youth are often drawn to 4-H programs because of their interest in a subject area – such as woodworking, shooting sports, livestock and many others – it is what they learn by participating in those activities that is the real benefit.
“We build 4-H programs intentionally so that youth can be agents of change in their community while they’re also using leadership and communication skills,” she said.
Hinshaw notes that such events as the Kansas Youth Leadership Forum relate to leadership. Ongoing activities like project talks, demonstrations and public speaking build on their communication skills.  “Communication is not just about speaking,” Mestrovich Seay said. “It’s also about learning how to deeply listen … to what your community needs, what your peers need and what people who might not have the same privileges need.”
The program also hosts well-known activities like Citizenship Washington Focus and 48 Hours of 4-H that focus on service to one’s community and world.
Newer programs, Mestrovich Seay added, incorporate all of these skills, such as a Community Conversations series that relies on youth serving as facilitators for talks around often-contentious issues.
“When Aliah talks about listening, we want to listen to understand,” Hinshaw said. “We have to put that leadership and citizenship hat on to think about what it is that I really heard and how others might interpret that. I think that 4-H helps youth build those skills.”
Hinshaw urges youth and families to learn more about the program by contacting their local 4-H club leader, or their local K-State Research and Extension agent.