Cooperative Extension at The University of Arizona understands the importance of helping children and youth find that “spark,” and its 4-H program sets out to make that happen.
Cooperative Extension, part of the university’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, serves as a link between the University of Arizona and individuals in an effort to help improve lives, families, communities, the environment and economies.
4-H, one of its programs, is considered the ‘first class’ of the University of Arizona as it works with youth to encourage them to work with others and prepare for their futures.
“Our main objective is around positive youth development,” Jeremy Elliott-Engel, associate director of 4-H youth development within the Cooperative Extension at the University of Arizona, said. “So, the idea is that we help a young person find a spark and help that young person develop mastery in that interest.”
He explained that 4-H’s objective helps build the “5 Cs” for its participants.
When 4-H first began, it focused on agriculture. Now it offers programs and learning opportunities for a variety of interests.
“4-H nationally realizes that only 2 percent of our population grows up on a production farm, and 20 percent of our population has parents in the workforce dealing with the [agriculture] industry,” Elliott-Engel said. “We have an opportunity to share more about where our food comes from because we are in that space in non-[agriculture] participants. And then also, we do lots of work around STEM and leadership and healthy living reaching those other populations.”
In addition to the participants’ specific interest, 4-H encourages financial preparation.
“There’s encouragement to understand it as a business. If they’re raising a steer, then they’re asked to do the financials on that,” Elliott-Engel said.
He explained, “they’re also asked to do a budget, how they’re expending, are they making any money? And they might not. But, at least they know how much it is they’re spending on those hobbies that’s an interest of theirs.”
Providing a wide range of programs allows children and youth, who are often unsure of their path, to find something that piques their interest.
“I think it all goes back to this idea of the spark, you know? There’s lots of young people that just are like, ‘I don’t know what it is I’m interested in.’ And that’s OK,” Elliott-Engel said. “We’ll take in people and say, ‘Show up.’”
4-H provides children and youth with useful skills and prepares them for their future endeavors. One example of this is Ethel Branch, the Attorney General of the Navajo Nation and former 4-H participant.
“In my high school, we didn’t do a lot of writing. But to do the demonstration projects for 4-H, you’d have to do research, and prepare and organize your presentation in writing,” Branch said in a press release. “It’s very similar to being a lawyer in terms of organizing your arguments, having your exhibits and being able to respond to questions from the people you’re presenting to.”
Elliott-Engel said, “There’s just so much opportunity to give voice to young people and to allow them to see their future in their own community, and to make an impact in their community. I think Ethel embodies that.”