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Expanding 4-H Youth Development Program outreach to engage Latino youth & families

The Issue

A high percentage of low-income Latino youth who live in Santa Barbara County (SBC) reside in the Santa Maria Valley. Historically, this youth population has had low participation rates in the UC ANR 4-H Youth Development Program (4-H YDP), a program that is nationally recognized for increasing positive youth outcomes in school, civics, and life skill development. But where the 4-H YDP in SBC has lacked strong connections with the Latino community, the UC CalFresh Nutrition Education program has been successful in building such relationships through the Healthy School Pantry, a program of THRIVE! Santa Maria and the Santa Maria Bonita School District.

What Has ANR Done?

The 4-H YDP in SBC partnered with UC CalFresh and THRIVE! Santa Maria to offer combined youth development and nutrition education programming through the UC ANR Youth, Families, & Communities statewide program. Monthly 4-H programming was offered for youth whose families were already attending the Healthy School Pantry. In the second year of this collaboration, youth and their families participated in programming focused on watershed education, animal science, and environmental awareness. This programming allowed youth to learn about animal nutrition and care, watershed runoff, and biodegradable materials, and at the same time introduced historically underserved youth and families to the benefits of the 4-H YDP. By increasing participation in these activities, the program aims to help address the noticeable “achievement gap” indicated by lower science literacy rates and higher high school dropout rates among low-income Latino youth in SBC.

The Payoff

Developing relationships and increasing Latino youth participation

Since these outreach efforts began, the percentage of youth participants in the 4-H YDP in SBC who are Latino has increased from 38% to 69%. What began as an outreach activity has developed into repeat participation of children who look forward to 4-H science activities while their parents receive food, nutrition, and cooking information. In addition to engaging Latino youth in the 4-H YDP, this effort has resulted in increased trust in the 4-H YDP among local Latino families and increased partnerships with other youth-serving organizations in the area. As a result of building these relationships, 89 Latino youth whose families attend the Healthy School Pantry and 27 Latino adults participated in a collaborative, youth-focused nutrition education special interest project. What’s more, the percentage of Latino youth participating in the traditional organized 4-H club model continues to grow, with a 7% increase (from 22% of the total club enrollment to 29%) in the last three years.

Clientele Testimonial

“4-H has contributed greatly. They have brought in many hands-on activities, which engage our community members, particularly our children. 4-H has done a great job at our Healthy School Pantry and has helped our community grow.” - Mark Muller, Director of Pupil Personnel Services, Santa Maria Bonita School District


Supporting Unit: Santa Barbara County

Katherine E. Soule, Ph.D., Youth, Families, & Communities Advisor, San Luis Obispo & Santa Barbara Counties

Janelle M. Hansen, 4-H Youth Development Program Supervisor in Santa Barbara County, jmmhansen@ucanr.edu, (805) 893-3409