Everyone has a fundamental need to feel a part of a group such as a family, a group of friends, or a team. In the 4-H world, it is referred to as a “sense of belonging.” Fostering a sense of belonging is one of the main priorities of the 4-H program within the Fulton-Mason-Peoria-Tazewell Unit, as well as across the state. No matter the type of 4-H experience, youth are positively impacted by those feelings of being a part of something bigger than themselves, having shared experiences, and being accepted and respected in a group.
The 4-H club program offers the possibility of the most sustained sense of belonging, with clubs meeting throughout the year, and club members often maintaining participation over the course of several years. These groups build connection and belonging by cultivating shared experiences, such as community service projects, learning opportunities, showcase events, and recitation of the 4-H Pledge. A 2019 survey asked 4-H club members in Fulton, Mason, Peoria, and Tazewell counties about aspects of belonging in their club and found:
- 95% felt welcomed
- 96% felt safe
- 86% felt supported by other kids in 4-H
- 86% felt like they mattered in 4-H
Even though our local summer programs, 4G STEM Camp and STEM Academy, are respectively focused on career exploration and building science skills, they also foster connection through icebreaker games, small group discussions, and group activities. Consequently, 90% of parents responding to a 2022 survey indicated that these programs helped their child(ren) make new friends.
Young people who participate in the statewide residential camp, 4-H Memorial Camp, often experience opportunities for this type of connection through communal meals, shared living spaces, and novel collective experiences. Indeed, when the 2022 participants (to date) were asked about their favorite part of camp, 43% of them responded to this open-ended question with some reference to bonding with friends, meeting new people, or other types of personal connection. This was the most common response, with references far outnumbering any particular activity or event that took place at camp.
In young people, a sense of belonging is linked to increased protective factors and decreased risk taking activities. The Student Experience Research Network even found that students with a sense of belonging do better in school, academically and behaviorally. For this reason, fostering a sense of belonging is one of the main priorities of 4-H programs, and is done in a variety of ways best suited to the type of program.
The sense of belonging is a necessary component of wellbeing, and the variety of 4-H programs cultivate this to help young people thrive.
About University of Illinois Extension: University of Illinois Extension is the flagship outreach effort of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, offering educational programs to residents of all of Illinois' 102 counties — and far beyond. Extension provides practical education you can trust to help people, businesses, and communities solve problems, develop skills, and build a better future. U of I Extension offers educational programs in five broad areas: energy and environmental stewardship, food safety and security, economic development and workforce preparedness, family health, financial security, and wellness, and youth development.
About 4-H: Illinois 4-H strives to help youth learn skills for living. University of Illinois Extension provides 4-H programs in every county in Illinois. Illinois 4-H aims to impact the lives of 200,000 youth each year through sustained learning clubs and groups and short-term programming.
Contact: Emily Schoenfelder – 4-H Youth Development Educator, Fulton-Mason-Peoria-Tazewell Unit, firstname.lastname@example.org, 309.347.6614