Positive Youth Development Through 4-H Community Clubs
4-H Critical Elements - A Welcoming/Inclusive Environment
An inclusive environment is one that allows a sense of belonging to develop, encourages and supports its members, and offers encouragement with positive and specific feedback. Healthy groups celebrate the success of all members – taking pride in the collective efforts of all.
4-H volunteers might consider the following questions: In our 4-H club….
- Do youth feel included rather than excluded?
- Do youth feel a sense of belonging?
- Do members feel valued and needed?
- Are members actively involved in planning and implementing the club program?
Some practices the 4-H club may want to implement if they have not already done so might include:
- Encourage creativity and consideration of everyone’s ideas. Take advantage of roll call during the club meeting to generate ideas from your members. Have a suggestion box or poster where members can write comments.
- Confront cliques and behaviors that exclude someone in the group. Behavior guidelines as discussed in an earlier article can help avoid some of these issues. If members and volunteers learn to respect each other, they will then take care of each other.
- Use t-shirts, buttons, hats or other items to symbolize group belonging. Encourage members to wear these items at club or county events. Club members might routinely attend county 4-H events where other members from their group are participating to encourage them. Clubs may want to create club banners that could be displayed at county fair and club events. The banner can also serve as a display area for club recognition awards.
- Develop skills and create products that members can take home and share with parents and siblings. Have youth share club experiences with their family and invite family members to take part in club events. Encourage family members to attend club meetings and events on a regular basis. Many clubs also have a club newsletter, e-mail list or phone tree to help keep families connected.
- Use ceremonies and traditions to develop group cohesion. Officer installation, new member recognition, and progress toward goals checkpoints are all examples of ceremonies. Clubs may start a tradition of recognizing parents, alumni, and/or volunteers during National Volunteer Week. The club should seek opportunities to provide multiple opportunities for recognition for members, leaders and parents.
- Promote diversity of membership in the club. Invite others from the community to join the club or ask them to give presentations (seniors, people from different ethnic groups, and youth with special needs). Create celebrations that respect culture and diversity. Help all members see that they are welcome to attend or enter any 4-H event in the club or county in which they meet the participation guidelines.
- Take time at each meeting to do some team building. It takes extra effort but the dividends will pay off later. Be sure that each child in the club knows the name of all the other members and volunteers. Help each person feel like he/she really belongs to the group and would be missed if he/she were not present.
- Provide opportunities for youth to learn the difference between negative peer pressure and friendship. Developing healthy relationships with other youth is not always easy. As volunteers, take advantage of the "teachable moments" to talk about what it means to be a friend and to have a friend among your 4-H members. Through conference judging, critiquing of talks and demonstrations, and during reflection opportunities at the end of club events or activities, members can learn to accept criticism from others.