What is 4-H?
4-H is America’s largest youth development organization—empowering nearly six million young people across the U.S. with the skills to lead for a lifetime. 4-H is a program of the Cooperative Extension system, which is a partnership between the U.S. Department of Agriculture, state land grant universities, and county governments. In Colorado, 4-H is administered through Colorado State University, which provides statewide leadership, and Colorado State University Extension offices in each county, which administer 4-H programs locally.
4‑H is a research-based experience that includes a mentor, a hands-on project, and meaningful leadership opportunities. Young people experience 4‑H through school and community clubs, in-school and after-school programs, and 4‑H camps.
The 4-H program is designed to promote positive youth development through four essential elements:
- Belonging– Youth need to know they are cared about by others and feel a sense of connection to others.
- Independence– Youth need to know that they are able to influence people and events through decision-making and action. They need to understand themselves and become independent thinkers.
- Mastery– In order to develop self-confidence, youth need to feel and believe they are capable, and they must experience success at solving problems and meeting challenges.
- Generosity– Youth need to feel that their lives have meaning and purpose.
Most 4-H members in Gunnison County experience 4-H through the traditional Club setting. Members join a Club, which is led by an adult volunteer and typically meets once a month. Clubs offer opportunities for members to take on leadership roles as well as participate in community service projects and demonstrations. Members then choose at least one project to work on throughout the year. Gunnison County offers a wide range of projects, from raising cattle to building rockets and everything in between. As they work on their project, youth learn to master new skills and gain confidence in their abilities. They then compete with their project during the county fair, and some go on to compete at State Fair and other competitions. Throughout the year, there are additional state-wide and national conferences and opportunities for members to expand their leadership abilities and build life skills.
For more than a decade, preeminent youth development scholars at Tufts University partnered with faculty at America’s land-grant universities to conduct research to define and measure the impact of 4-H on youth. The final report, The Positive Development of Youth: Comprehensive Findings from the 4-H Study of Positive Youth Development, reviews the multi-year research findings.
This study found that 4-H members are:
- Four times more likely to make contributions to their communities (grades 7-12)
- Two times more likely to be civically active (grades 8-12)
- Two times more likely to make healthier choices (grade 7)
- Two times more likely to participate in science, engineering and computer technology programs during out-of-school time (grades 10 – 12)
- Female 4-H participants are two times more likely (grade 10) and nearly three times more likely (grade 12) to take part in science programs compared to girls in other out-of-school time activities.
This study is the first of its kind in showing a link between 4-H and positive youth development. The study showed that 4-H youth make healthier choices when it comes to delaying sexual intercourse, misuse of drugs and are more likely to be physically active. The report also shows that 4-H’ers excel in school by receiving better grades, being engaged in their school and expect to graduate from college. According to the research, 4-H’ers surveyed in 11th grade are 3.3 times more likely to actively contribute to their communities than youth who do not participate in 4-H.