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4-H project engages youth in community forums

The Issue

Young people engaged in their communities and organizations in meaningful ways are more likely to be civically involved and philanthropically inclined throughout their lives. Youth also have considerable knowledge and energy they can give to better their communities if encouraged to do so. However, society often does not value these contributions and it is a challenge to find or create opportunities to involve youth in authentic and meaningful community roles.

What Has ANR Done?

4-H Youth Development advisors and staff developed and implemented a "community forums" project to encourage community engagement. A community forum is an opportunity for diverse community members to come together to discuss, not debate, an issue important to them. It requires a trained moderator to keep the group on track and to make it a safe place for community members to voice opinions. It also requires a trained recorder to accurately capture the group’s ideas. The goal of this ongoing project is to provide teams of youth and adults with all the skills they need to successfully convene, moderate and record a community forum, thus strengthening their involvement in their communities while addressing local issues.

Through in-depth trainings held on the UC Davis campus, county-based teams successfully mastered skills enabling them to convene community forums. The training also included group process skills, such as meeting facilitation, working as a team, youth-adult partnerships and evaluation methods. The training was based on the curriculum used in the well-established Public Policy Institute, a UC Davis-based training typically offered to professional adults.

The Payoff

4-H youth bring their communities together on issues that matter

Thirty-eight ethnically diverse youth and adults from six rural counties in California and Arizona participated in the 2004-2005 project. Twenty-one youth and adults from four rural California counties participated in 2005-2006. In spring of 2006, the project was offered at the national level and included teams from 16 states, including California. California participants came from communities representing widely varying cultures and lifestyles including migrant farm worker communities, an academy for foster youth, and a military base. Following the training, the youth returned to their communities and held forums on such topics as youth violence, the environment, out-of-school activities for youth, and how to recruit more youth to a well-established leadership program. Collectively, the various California teams reached 211 youth and 85 adults through this forum process.

Program evaluations showed that participating youth and adults gained confidence and skills, especially in meeting facilitation, that they successfully used in their communities and in a variety of other settings. Adults increased their awareness of youth’s capabilities and youth demonstrated that they could successfully connect with their communities. Communities discussed important issues and increased their understanding of the issues that needed to be addressed.

One teen stated that the highlight was “gaining the strength and courage to get up and talk to people and knowing your voice would be heard.” Another youth reported, “We learned how to respect each other’s opinions.”

Through a generous grant from the California 4-H Foundation, the forum project is being offered to urban and suburban youth and their adult partners in 2008.


Supporting Unit: California State 4-H Office

Shelley Murdock,(925) 646-6124, swmurdock@ucdavis.edu

Carole Paterson,(707)784-1125